Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 38
There was a dirt road from the finca to the main road that ran north and south. This was the road taken by Pablo and Francsico. It was also the road they’d met at on the way back. From there, having seen little but strange flying machines the occupants of which ignored them, they trotted their horses.
There were reasons – very good reasons – that the major domo had chosen Pablo and Francisco to ride out to scout for danger. As he, himself, had been, those two were true, eager, and willing stakhanovites. This, among other reasons, was why they’d been trusted with horses.
They’re also been trusted with punishment. Indeed, it has been those two who had nailed young Arpad to the cross beam, then lifted and fixed the beam to the top of the upright, the stirpes, and first tied his ankles to the upright, and then nailed his heels to the wood.
“Hey, Pablo,” Francisco said, “I bet we get a lot more willing and eager cooperation from little weepy girl if we hurt her boy first and threaten to do more if she doesn’t cooperate.”
“We can do her in front of him,” Pablo added. “The mistress will appreciate giving him more suffering.”
They’d had a little fun with Mariamne, afterwards, but that was just part of the compensation package. The fun had been an additional reason for the girl’s weeping at the foot of Arpad’s cross.
Neither Pablo nor Francisco had any particular reason to fear their return. The finca, after all, was peaceful, as a general rule, with the major domo’s escopeta to back up the orders of the more privileged among the slaves, the stakhanovites like themselves.
The several hundred slaves that worked the land and provided domestic services to the mistress all turned out to meet the two. They were formed in a kind of loose crescent, with the thickest part in front of the punishment area.
As Pablo and his pal rode in, chatting with each other amiably, they failed immediately to notice several important changes. One was that the cross they’d had the disloyal slave on was empty. Another was that two different crosses were filled. A third was that, a few rows of people into the crescent, the major domo’s escopeta was in the hands of someone new.
They also failed to notice as the arms of the crescent began to fold in behind them. Indeed, their first realization of change came when the cry arose – was it a young woman’s voice? – “Get them!”
Pablo was pulled from his bucking horse almost immediately. Francisco managed to strike some heads and faces with his short whip, but his resistance didn’t last very long either. Once on the ground, both tried to cover their heads against the kicks aimed their way.
“Too quick! Too quick!” Mariamne cried above the exultant shouts. “No beat. No!” She pointed and demanded, “To the crosses with them?”
Outside Atlantis Base
Laying side by side in the brush, Vicente and Rodrigues alternating watching through their single pair of binoculars as some thin traces of a smoke screen appeared. Overhead, the freight train-rattle of 85mm artillery sounded, low and menacing, accompanied by the softer sounds of mortar shells cruising at a higher altitude. The explosions to the front, being just light artillery and mortars, were nothing like the gut-rippling catastrophes of heavier shells.
“Wish to hell we had the cruiser in support,” the cadet said.
“Wish in one hand and…”
“Yes, centurion; I know, ‘shit in the other.’ But I still wish we had the cruiser in support.”
“For smoke?” Centurion Vicente asked. “They don’t make a smoke shell for that. For high explosive I feel the same way.”
Rodrigues shrugged. “Just a thought.”
“Was never practical,” Vicente said. “Having the cruiser in range to get in range to support us would have given the game away. And if that had happened, we were deader than chivalry…hmmm?”
“Yes?” the cadet asked.
“We’re getting mixed HE with smoke now. The order will be coming down in a few minutes to move out. Go check that the machine guns are ready, then get behind the platoon to kick asses.”
“Yes, centurion,” the cadet answered, before beginning to slither backwards to avoid silhouetting himself to the defenders below.
“Yes, centurion?” the cadet asked, his slithering coming to a temporary halt.
“This will only be your second time in action, right?”
“First time in a position of responsibility?
“A little,” the boy admitted.
“Don’t bother; you’re going to be too busy to be scared once we get the order to go in.”
Rodrigues though about that for all of half a second, then answered, with a smile, “You know what, centurion? I think that’s right.”
“It was right when Sergeant Major Mac gave the advice to Sergeant Major Martinez, and right when Martinez gave it to me, more than fifteen years ago. The world hasn’t changed since. One other thing, too; those guys and gals waiting for us down there are sailors, and space sailors at that. They’ve never been in action and, I’ll guarantee you, if the shells hitting amongst them don’t impress us much; they’re so impressed their trousers are brown. Now go on.”
Rodrigues continued down the slope, knocking the odd pebble loose to roll down, until he judged he was low enough that he could rise to a crouch without being seen. That happened to be about where Parilla, the medic, was waiting. Giving the medic the thumbs up sign, Rodrigues arose, cut left, and paralleled the crest of the slope to just behind the weapons squad.
The machinegun crews were in defilade, with only the squad leader looking out over the town via binoculars. Rodrigues passed those at a duck walk, then fell to the prone and crawled up.
“You’re a noisy crawler,” said the squad leader, a cadet named Negrón, who was also the lightest skinned member of the platoon, man or boy.
“Odd layout,” Rodrigues said, “with your machine guns that far back.”
“They can be up here in about two and a half seconds,” Negrón replied. “And engaging targets half a second after that. I’ve brought the gunners up one at a time to show them what I want suppressed.
“You know, it’s funny, Jorge.”
Negrón gestured in the direction of the base. “Those Earthpig shuttles that have been landing? They’ve been avoiding the ship, probably to avoid the guns, and flying very low nap of the Earth. I see the same six hull numbers, over and over, plus any number of other numbers that only show up once. I think they’re trying to bullshit us as to how many people are down there to defend.”
“Now that is something Hamilcar needs to know! Good observation.”
Jorge immediately began to slide back, to make his way to the platoon radio.