Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 35
What was there neither Jorge, nor the platoon leader, Centurion Vicente, really knew. Certainly it had looked like a ranch, not really different from back home, except there was somewhat less mechanization that one would expect from a similar operation in Balboa.
From where he stood, Jorge could watch progress through the windscreen in front of the pilots. He watched, with his rifle slung over his shoulder and both arms raised to allow a grip on a strap hanging from the perforated metal that made up the ceiling of the cargo compartment. First the chopper aimed for a pass between two hills. He felt it rise slightly, to stay above the ground and scattered trees.
On the other side, where he had felt his stomach sink before, now he felt it try to crawl out of his mouth when the IM-71 dove low into a narrow valley. They followed that for a while, then veered hard to port to lunge through another low pass between hills. From there, the ground leveled out enough that Jorge felt comfortable letting go with one hand so he could turn about to see the lay of the land generally. He saw a great many farm workers simply stop what they were doing to stare at the passing bird.
Funny; I’d expect them either to wave or to run, but, no, they just watch. Simply not very curious people? Or have they no idea what a…
The chopper began a rapid rise again, causing Rodriquez to have to scramble to get his double handhold back. He turned his attention back to the front. Over another ridge the helicopter went, then down again.
Through the windscreen Jorge saw a set of buildings, white stucco-covered, mostly. They’d built a model of the target, from the map and the aerial photographs, back aboard ship. He was pretty sure it was a target match.
The nose lifted slightly, though enough for the collection of buildings to disappear. Jorge saw the two door gunners, integral parts of the helicopter’s crew, take a more determined control of their machine guns and begin scanning the ground to either side closely. The descent then became relatively steep, with the pilot slowing down only in the last few seconds before hitting down with a considerable shock to the passengers.
Jorge wasn’t sure if he was the first man off the chopper, he was sure only that he was the first one off the rear ramp. When he turned, Centurion Vicente was already on the ground, out the left side door, and already pointing the squad leader for first squad in the right direction.
When Jorge looked to the other side, he recoiled. There, nailed to a cross, was a young man little older than himself, with a young woman, more a girl really – dirty faced, ragged, and underfed – standing defensively between the cross and the helicopter. She was somewhere in color between his own black and the light-skinned victim on the cross. Past the dirt on her face, Jorge thought she was probably pretty.
Too skinny though, way too skinny.
There were four more uprights, these not surmounted by a crosspiece, next to the one occupied cross.
Jorge keyed his Red Fang communicator.
“What is it, Rodrigues?” asked Centurion Vicente.
“There’s some kid – young enough, anyway, no older than us – over here crucified,” Jorge informed him. “We need cooperation from the locals, don’t we? So how about if I take a couple of men and get this kid down? Bet he’ll be as helpful as can be.”
“Good thought,” agreed Vicente, “Do it. Steal no more than one man each from second and third squads, plus I suppose you’ll need the medic. Nailed or tied? If nailed, how are you going to get him down?”
“Figure that out when I get there, centurion.”
Jorge reached out and grabbed the last cadet storming out of the back of the helicopter on the right side of the ramp. A couple of shuffling steps and he likewise caught one from the other side. Keying his Red Fang again, he announced, “Second and third, this is the platoon sergeant. I’ve taken Lopez and Navarro. You’ll get them back when I’m done with them. Until then, make do.”
The chopper was already leaving when Jorge ordered, “Follow me, you two. And MEDIC!”
“Here,” answered a boy even younger than Rodrigues. A tape on his chest said his last name was Parilla. He was the great-grandson of the President. “But I’m not a fully trained medic; I was just a member of the medics club at the school. That’s something I wish you and the centurion would keep in mind.”
“Best we have. You come, too.”
The four trotted to the girl standing defensively in front of the cross. Rodrigues gently pushed her out of the way before he noticed she was speaking Spanish.
Well, sort of Spanish. I can recognize about half of it but the other half seems a little strange. Short words and simple sentences time.
“Miss, who are you?”
That brought a flurry of words, again only about half comprehensible.
Jorge sighed. Simpler still, I guess.
“Who you?” Pointing at the thing of pain on the cross, “Who him?”
“Me Mariamne. Him Arpan. Him MINE!”
The girl’s eyes flashed purest hate, so pure that the next words hardly mattered. “Mistress angry. Punish. Order. Evil bitch…”
A single shot in the distance caught Jorge’s attention. He held up a palm to tell the girl to be quiet for a moment. Vicente’s voice came over the Red Fang, “Some old, bald fool, carrying an ancient shotgun. He’s down. Continue the round-up.”
Jorge pointed at the nails holding the man up by wrists and feet, then used the bent index fingers on his right hand to mime pulling a nail from his left wrist.
“You help?” the girl asked.
He pointed at her, then said, “Get help. Get tools.”
She nodded eagerly. “I get. Oh, please, oh, please; I get.” Then she took both of Jorge’s hands in her own, kissed each a half-dozen times, quickly, and ran off toward what appeared to be barracks.
“Nice girl,” Jorge muttered.
“She is…a very…nice girl,” said the young man on the cross, in what appeared to be only slightly accented but otherwise perfect Spanish. He’d raised his head to speak, then let his chin sink back onto his heaving chest with an audible groan.
Jorge heard a rumbling. Turning in that direction, he saw two dozen or so badly dressed and poorly fed workers – slaves; I suppose they must be slaves – dragging a wagon that looked to be of about the right size to stand on to pull the nails. The skinny, but still maybe pretty, brown girl jumped and danced excitedly in front of them, beckoning them to greater speed.
The crew wasn’t stupid, Jorge saw. Though it seemed unlikely they’d ever pulled a live victim from a cross, they knew to pull the wagon up and pull the spikes from the boy’s heels first. He screamed as the first spike was pulled and wriggled out, followed by a well of blood. For the second he’d fainted dead away.
Just as well, Jorge thought.
The crew rested his feet on the wagon bed, then climbed aboard to start worrying at the spikes through his wrists. The whole time Mariamne keened, pressing herself against him and stroking his face.
First one wrist spike came out, which caused his body to twist and interfere with removing the other. The girl held him up as best she could until the other slaves joined the effort, straightening him up until the final spike could be removed. Then they gently lowered him to the wagon bed. This was made a little harder by the girl, Mariamne, refusing to be parted from him by so much as a millimeter.
“Doc,” said Rodrigues, “I think you had best turn her into an assistant, because she’s going to be in the way unless you do. Oh, and small words, simple sentences.”
As it turned out, while there were very close to even numbers of men and women, only one woman was well dressed and healthy-looking. The others all stood in a circle around the former oppressor and recent chief liberator.
Claudia Nyere, also former ambassador to Santa Josefina, twisted and squirmed while being held by her arms by two of the largest liberated slaves on the ranch.
“You can’t do this to me, ground bound scum! I’m an ambassador, hence inviolable, and a Class One of the Castro-Nyere clan, rulers of TransIsthmia, on Earth!”
Centurion Vicente nodded solemnly, then from a standing start, without windup, backhanded her across the face, loosening teeth, ripping lips on those teeth, and causing blood from the torn lips to fly through the air before splashing onto the gravel.
“Shut up, bitch. My orders are to take you alive but I’m close to retirement already so I have come to consider orders not much more than a basis for discussion. And, ya know, no one back home would really mind if I turned you over to the men and women here for their justice. I understand the nails from the cross came out straight, too.
“In fact, the only reason I’m keeping you alive at all is that, if I let them tear you apart, I might have trouble finding someone else as monstrously guilty as you are.”
I don’t believe that, really, Vicente thought. The air of this whole place reeks with the odor of the monstrously guilty.
Rodrigues was close enough not to need the Red Fang. “Platoon Sergeant?” shouted out the centurion.
“That kid who was crucified, he alert yet?”
“He was in a good deal of pain, Centurion, and weak. Doc gave him an injector of morphine, but I think he can answer questions.”
Turning his back on Nyere, Vicente took long steps to get to the wagon upon which Arpad’s tortured body still lay, his girl, Mariamne, in attendance on him. The centurion didn’t climb onto the wagon. Instead, he stood beside it and reached out one hand to twist the boy’s head to where it faced him.
“I understand you speak real Spanish rather than the pidgin most of these poor folks manage.”
“Yes, sir,” Arpad said, slowly. “Pretty good…anyway.”
Vicente nodded. “Yes, ‘pretty good.’ Okay. We’ve got the cunt who calls herself ‘Claudia Nyere.’ She’ll face justice in God’s good time. Maybe sooner than that. Now is there anyone else here on this ranch who would matter to the people in space? Let your imagination run free, spouses, children, sex toys, official aides or secretaries from Old Earth; anybody like that?”
Arpad said something to the girl in that almost-but-not-exactly Spanish. She answered, at some length and with a few unusual punctuations, like spitting on the ground, and forming her fingers and thumbs into a ring that she slowly closed, and grinding her foot on the gravel.
“‘No,’ she says. She also says…that everybody here…would really like…to tear…the bitch limb…from limb. I don’t suppose…?”
“Sorry, no, orders. Or, at least, not yet.”
Mariamne then said something else, pointing to the south.
“She had a kid, sir, not here but in boarding school. My girl can show you where.”
“Excellent.” Vincente consulted his map. “We didn’t know about the boarding school.”