Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 33
The gravity on the hangar deck was paltry, but she had magnetized shoes to let her put one foot in front of the other and join him. It was an awkward kind of walk, and especially so for those, who, like Bethany, had little cause ever to go to the Hangar deck.
“You’re in my group for this,” Robin announced. He reached into a bag slung over his shoulder and passed her several hundred rounds worth of preloaded four millimeter ammunition.
“Chris,” she said, holding up her carbine, “I haven’t touched one of these – I haven’t so much as looked at one of these since my first year at the academy. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Robin sighed. “Almost nobody does. We have to hope that what’s going on down below doesn’t take Marines to handle.”
“Hope’s not a plan,” she replied. “I remember that much from first year, at least.”
Beach Red, Atlantis Island, ten kilometers north of the base.
Both bombs were ashore now, with a platoon detailed to prepare them for sling loading under one of the helicopters and guard them until the slingload was in the air. Their control boxes were with Ham, on one of the two -967s that had come in with the bombs.
All the troops were ashore now or enroute, along with eight Jaguar tanks, two dozen Ocelot Infantry Fighting Vehicles, plus one short battery of light artillery.
Ham reached for a radio handset, passed over by an eager young cadet. This was for the general push, so every maniple and cohort would hear it.
The basic plan was Johnson’s. Ham hadn’t written it, but he knew it. They’d rehearsed it verbally and on map exercises so much that every man and boy knew it.
“All stations, this is headquarters. Commence Operation Round-up. I say again, commence Operation Round-up.”
While the dead and wounded on the bridge had been taken away, shattered glass still littered the deck. Along with the shards of glass, the deck was also liberally covered with sticky, drying blood.
Tribune Campos would have had to stand on a crate to see properly, except that the blinded skipper’s chair could be elevated. He sat on that, watching as little by little the smoke from the fires disappeared and the flames feeding that smoke went out.
Fortunately, the comms had never gone out, except in some of the forward sections that had been blasted by the rockets’ warheads. For those, he had radio communications.
He also knew that the officer in charge of damage control outranked him, rather badly, and should have taken command. But that officer had judged, perhaps rightly, that getting the fires under control and unexpended ordnance over the side was more important.
Fat lot of good if we all get court-martialed.
The problem was that, while the ship was naval, the crew and officer arrangements had been, more or less, mercantile, with only minor increases. The extras who had come aboard had mainly been for the mission, not the ship. There were officers in plenty – well, as plenty as the legionary system allows, anyway – from the tribune commanding the helicopter squadron to the one in charge of the hovercraft to the commanders, executive officers, platoon leaders and staff of the landing force. But plenty hadn’t meant an increase in naval crew beyond what they’d set out with.
And so this devolves on me because, as it happens, I can command the ship better than I can do damage control.
Now Campos had, at least, been able to scrape together a replacement bridge crew, someone to steer, someone for communications, someone to keep the tactical map ashore updated, that kind of thing.
“Message from damage control forward, sir,” said the sailor in charge of communications.”
“Campos, we have something of a problem. We got the warhead that was on deck cooled down enough to try to push it over the side.”
“That’s great, sir!”
You would think so, wouldn’t you? But here’s the problem one of the party pointed out to me. We still don’t know what it is. If it’s bomblets and they go off underwater they probably won’t hole the hull. Mines? Meh. Fuel Air Explosive…key word there is ‘air,’ and there isn’t any under the water.
“But if it’s HE, high explosive…and if that HE goes off next to the hull…well…five hundred pounds, give or take of high explosive, while we’re passing over it? Might as well be a torpedo.”
“Could use the bow thrusters,” Campos offered.
“Shit, yeah,” Campos said. “No use even trying if we’re doing even three knots. So what do we do?”
“For what I’m thinking, I think I’m crazy, so I want a second opinion.”
“The gantry crane. It doesn’t look to have taken any damage. We roll it up to where the bomb lays and lift it. But before we lift it we wire the bomb for sound, then set it off when it’s as high as we can lift it.”
“Wish we had a rotary crane,” Campos said.”
“Yeah, but wish in one hand and shit in the other…”
“I know; see which one fills up faster. But wait; I just realized; yes, you’re crazy.”
“What if it is an FAE?”
“Shit, I must be getting old. That would be very bad, son, very bad indeed. Much worse than HE going off overhead, though not as bad as HE going off under the keel. Right, no controlled detonation for us. So what then?”
“You want my opinion, sir? Pack it carefully so it won’t roll. I’ll do everything possible to keep the ship steady until you relieve me. And then I’ll go down to the containers under the bomb, with whatever manpower we can scrape together, and sort out key supplies and get them ashore.
“Yeah, okay. Just do our best to live with it, huh? I think you’re right….okay…I’m on my way.”
Latifundia Mixcoatl, Atlantis Island
The former ambassador to Santa Josefina, Claudia Nyere – despite her name, as white as any Nordic – was at loose ends. She’d had a job until recently and had rather enjoyed it; it, and the prestige and perks.
Not that she harbored any ill will toward the High Admiral, oh, no, But for Wallenstein’s intervention and buying me back from the barbarians who’d captured me, I have absolutely no doubt they’re have dismembered me and sent me back a piece at a time…and in not very large pieces.
Imagine treating a well-connected and properly credentialed Class One like that! Barbarian scum!
Of course, there were compensations to being out of a job; Nyere had always had to put on a friendly and caring face before the Santa Josefinans. She’d had to treat the embassy staff, the local elements of it, with consideration, too. That had been galling – treating lowers as if they were real people rather than highly expendable, because individually unimportant, organic machinery.
She didn’t have to treat the slaves of her latifundia well, though. If any of them had had any doubt of that, the one hanging from a cross by the slave barracks would have reminded them.
She looked at the writhing almost man, occasionally howling with agony from pierced and shattered wrists and heels. At the foot of a cross wept a young girl, perhaps his special girl?
Claudia nodded with approval. It’s better when slaves understand that their actions cause pain not just to themselves, but to those they care about. As to what to do about the slut…maybe nothing except to turn her over to the field hands.
Raising her eyes from the broken-hearted girl back to the victim, she thought, Not much more than a boy, really. He, certainly, won’t be inciting rebellion anymore.
She wasn’t sure of the victim’s name – who bothers to learn the names of any slaves they’re not using for sex, anyway? – but she remembered him as the offspring of one of the locals, some woman who had once figured prominently in one of the front organizations the fleet and the Consensus maintained on the planet. He’d only gone up on the cross that morning, so would likely last as an excellent example to the rest for at least another two or three days.
A waste, in a way, when I could have sacrificed him to Mixcoatl, but that’s altogether too quick, painless, and honorable for a disloyal slave.
Ambassador Nyere – she was still entitled to the title, even though out of a posting – turned her attention from the slowly expiring boy, who certainly didn’t matter, anyway, when she heard explosions – some loud and near, others distant and weak – coming from just about every direction.
She rang for her major domo, a portly and unusually dignified slave, older and balding, and dark like almost all her human chattels.
“What are those noises?” she asked, when the major domo arose from his proskynesis.
“I don’t know mistress. Shall I find out?”
“You shouldn’t have to ask,” she informed the slave. “Your duty is to anticipate my wishes and meet them in advance.”
The major domo didn’t point out that he’d heard the explosions at the exact same time his owner had, so could hardly have anticipated anything, and had spent the intervening time running to her summons. Instead, bowing deeply, he backed away.
Trotting to the slave barracks, the major domo summoned two of the drovers for the property, both, like himself, slaves, and both, like himself, trusted. “Take a horse each,” he ordered. “You, Pablo, follow the north road. Francisco, go south. When you see anything unusual, turn around and report back?”
“Unusual like what?” Pablo asked.
“If I knew that,” said the chief slave of the property, “I wouldn’t need to send you out, now would I?”
“Fine,” said Pablo, “we go. Any problem we put little weepy girl, whose boy we nailed up, on all fours and arse to the sky when we get back?”
“I don’t see a problem. Only hurry; don’t take over an hour.”