Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 34
It’s a Vietnamese soup that answers the question, ‘What happens when a former child soldier pours hot rain water over fish nightmares.’ It’s delicious and I can’t stop eating it, that’s what happens.
Air Defense Station Number One was just a reinforced spot on the deck next to a hatch up which ammunition could be passed, and from which a normally ground based air defense weapon could command a significant arc of fire. To its right and slightly forward, the SPLAAD – Self Propelled Laser Air Defense – likewise sat. Number Two had no hatch for ammunition, but did have a connection for the system to hook into ships power rather than relying on its own. Three was a mirror of One, currently sweeping from about one hundred and thirty-five degrees sternward to just past the bow. The cannon for One and Three were water-cooled, a necessity given their caliber, rate of fire, and design.
It was Number Two, the laser, that first picked up the incoming targets. Rather, what it picked up was bounceback from its detection and timing laser, which bounceback, given the speed of light, meant that a) there was something there worth shooting and b) oh, frabjous day, you can shoot it, o machine.
Unfortunately, the main laser wasn’t powerful enough to do anything to an aircraft, itself. Instead, it was intended to blind the pilot so that he lost control of his plane to that agonizing blindness, then crashed, and died. Proven quite effective in the air war over Balboa, when facing Tauran Union jets, it did absolutely nothing to the UEPF’s incoming landers. Rather, if it had any effect, it was tolerably hard for the crew to see any.
The commander of Number One, tracking the incoming lander with binoculars, also found it tolerably hard to see after the bounceback from the main laser assaulted his eyes. Fortunately, it was only painful, causing him to swear and see spots. If he’d been on the brunt of it, blindness, total and permanent, would have followed.
If the SPLAAD proved useless, not so, however, the gun-armed models. Left and right of Number Two’s laser, boxy turrets, each mounting four small caliber cannon and a radar emitter, automatically elevated the canon and slewed around. Number three fired first, though, right on its heels, number one continued the burst into one long one of exactly four hundred rounds, fifty each from each barrel from each system, in a mix of three high explosive to one armor piercing.
No one knew how many hit. The chief of Number One estimated something on the order of eighty hits before the target literally disintegrated in the air. But then, he thought he saw some of the pieces of the lander waving arms and legs and clawing at the air in what appeared to be desperate attempts to fly.
The chief blinked his eyes, which hurt like the devil, actually, from flash back from Number Two’s laser. “Must have been the laser fucking with them,” he thought. “No way anybody survived those hits.”
He radioed to Number Two, “Hey, your laser isn’t doing a damned thing. How about turning it off until we have reason to expect a target you can deal with?”
“Roger,” came the reply.
Already, the crew of One and Three were feeding the next four belts of fifty, in expectation of another target.
UEPF Spirit of Peace
Marguerite watched the lander disintegrate in mid-air. She cursed herself, specifically for, Thirty irreplaceable crewman, gone for nothing.
“Call off any further attempts to land on the ship itself,” she ordered. “Send the forces to defend the base.” Shit; I should have known my enemy would not leave his weapon vulnerable to anything so predictable. And I wonder, now, why I didn’t think of that, either.
Switching channels, rather, having the ship’s computer do so for her, she asked once again for the lieutenant commander in charge of gunnery.
“We’ve got one nuclear package pulled, High Admiral. The next two should go a little quicker now that we know how.”
“Ten minutes? Twenty?” she asked, impatiently.
“Maybe a little longer; I think I can promise disarmed, loaded, and ready to fire in thirty.”
“Thirty,” she agreed, while wondering, Do I demote or get rid of this guy, for not being ready, or promote him for figuring it out? Probably promote, because we’re probably going to have a do a crash program to get our nukes on line again, if they can be brought on line again.
The second lander in order of march was the one holding Bethany Wallace. She watched the point lander on the screen as it disintegrated. She saw crewmen, too, seemingly trying to fly as they fell to certain death in the sea, below. She stuffed her knuckles in her mouth to stifle a scream, then began praying silently to whatever she hoped might be out there and concerned with human events enough to save her.
With relief she saw on the screen and felt in her guts and inner ear the sharp turn that brought the lander around and the sudden thrust that pushed her back against the seat.
I am NOT trained for this! Not! Not! NOT!
Still in intel, where she’d effectively attached herself since the beginning of the crisis, Esmeralda was still following the ship to shore attack on the base. Khan, husband, asked her for a progress report.
“They seem to have all their men ashore,” she answered. “Supplies, too, I’d guess; at least enough of them. Their helicopters, the bigger ones, began to fan out across the island a few minutes ago carrying soldiers.”
“Heading for where?” Khan asked.
“Nowhere in particular, sir. If I had to guess…”
“Go on, Ensign; what would be your guess?”
“Well…I followed a few of them. They’re flying low, hugging the ground…”
“They call it ‘Nap Of the Earth,’ or ‘NOE,’ down below.”
“All right, sir, ‘NOE’ works for me. Anyway, they’re following…NOE, so they’re changing direction so much that none of them appear to have a particular target. But – remember, sir, I am guessing – I think they’re heading for the latifundia, or for about half of them anyway.
“Why would they do that?” Esma finished.
Latifundia…the ambassador to Santa Josefina…we sent her back to hers after our embassy in Aserri went under…and she was…oh, fuck.
Khan didn’t answer, directly. Instead, he cursed and then asked the computer to call directly to Wallenstein.
The High Admiral’s lover answered, “Xingzhen?”
“Your Imperial Majesty, this is Khan, male. I must speak to the High Admiral.”
After a short delay came the words, “Yes, Commander?” Wallenstein spoke with a calm she didn’t feel. There was something at the heart of this attack, something unspeakable, and she had the unshakeable conviction that it had to do with her and her actions under her predecessor.
“I know…I think I know…what this attack is about. All praise to your girl, Esma, for figuring it out; at least figuring out a key part. But High Admiral, the barbarians are going for hostages.“
“Are you certain?”
“It all makes sense. Think about the damage they did to von der Leyen Caserne. With everything else, they could have as easily obliterated the base for the use of that much firepower. If they’d wanted just to hurt us, they didn’t need to land ground troops, no assault guns, no tanks, no helicopters or hovercraft.
“But they sent all those things. They sent them despite the greater security risk that kind of force represented. Why? It’s as clear as a bell; they intend to take hostages.”
“Our nukes,” Khan answered. “They’re afraid we’ll use our nukes on them to settle the problem they represent. Hostages prevent that.”
“But our nukes…” Wallenstein let the thought peter out.
“Yes,” Khan said, “our nukes are terribly old, hence unreliable, and probably, in fact, do not work. But they don’t know that.”
Esma, unnoticed at her desk, kept her face carefully neutral while thinking, Oh, yes, they do. So they’re taking hostages, Commander; you’re right about that. But they have another purpose in mind for it. I wish I understood better how Carrera really thought…
Beach Red, Atlantis Island
The helicopters could normally carry twenty-six soldiers and their equipment. The cadets who made up most of the maniples weighed rather less, though; thirty-seven were stuffed onto each, along with one or two fully grown adults. It was cramped, of course, but comfort counted for little – less than nothing, really – under the circumstances.
The platoons of cadets were odd in one particular way. No one had had any idea what language or languages would be spoken by the Peace Fleet personnel or their staffs actually on the base, so each platoon carried on its rolls at least one English Speaker, one French, one German, one Russian, and one Italian. Everybody spoke Spanish. Chinese and Japanese? There just weren’t enough of those in Balboa to have made a difference.
One of the first helicopters to have carried a platoon out came back, having dropped its load of infantry onto what appeared to be the headquarters of a large farm. With the rotor churning the air overhead and raising a choking cloud of dust, a singing platoon hustled aboard, the cadet non-coms prodding and even kicking the younger and junior boys into their places. Ham watched them fill the cargo deck. Even after that, many had to stand, grabbing whatever handhold could be found.
Over the sound of rotor and engine, Hamilcar heard a familiar old song:
“In the morning we rise early
Long before the break of dawn,
Trixies screeching in the jungle,
Moonbats scurrying from the sun.
Now assemble, mis compadres.
Gather, boys, and muster, men,
Hand to hand with butt and bayonet,
Let their blood across the homeland run.
And you are welcome, Balboenses.
Side by side we’ll make our stand
Hand to hand with butt and bayonet.
We’ll rise up together with the Legions then
Rise up together with the Legions then…”
The platoon sergeant was a senior cadet rather than an adult. He was also an old friend and comrade. Cadet Jorge Rodrigues, black and very, very slender, waved from the helicopter’s ramp, smiled happily, then stood to attention and saluted.
Still skinny as a rail, Ham thought, even though you can eat enough for three boys.
For his part Ham likewise stood to attention and solemnly returned Rodrigues’ salute. Then he returned the smile as well, giving a thumbs up and pointing inland, roughly in the direction he knew the chopper would go. Jorge nodded, then turned back to his platoon.
Ham turned around to find a mixed journalism and long ranged communications section standing by for instructions. “Just keep close,” he said. Then he opened a metal box about the size of a heavy machine gun ammunition can and withdrew from it a very futuristic-looking communications device. He turned it on and deposited it in a breast pocket.
Jorge felt his stomach sink down about to his knees as the helicopter pulled pitch to spring into the air. It went up only about fifty feet, he judged, before swing around to face generally in the direction of their target, something labelled on the maps as “Finca 42.”