Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 40
Rodriguez could still here the tanks and the ocelots, even after they passed the smoke screen. He watched the last of the platoon disappear into the same screen before plunging into it himself. There weren’t very many shots from the main guns, but the coaxial thirty millimeter light cannon and the thirty caliber machine guns kept up a fairly steady chatter.
Return fire was…not all that impressive. I don’t know what they’re thinking, in that base, but the tanks and assault guns can’t really take the place. We, on the other hand, can…even if we’re at best half-trained for this sort of thing. But they’re concentrating on the armor that they can’t hurt rather than us whom they could. I wonder…yeah, makes sense. The couple of buildings the armor destroyed caught all the attention they have to give.
He keyed his Red Fang to contact Centurion Vicente.
“Yeah, what is it, Rod?” the centurion asked.
“If you’ve got good commo with the armor,” the cadet answered, “ask them to blast a couple more buildings. We haven’t taken any serious fire – no casualties, anyway, that I’ve seen – because what the Earthpigs have is all concentrating on the tanks and ocelots. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”
“It isn’t,” Vicente agreed. “Against well trained troops, they’d have butchered us and that would have stopped the armor. These are not well trained, maybe not trained at all.”
“Makes up for a good deal of our own deficiencies, centurion, no?”
“We’ll see when we get inside. You out of the smoke yet?”
“Not quite, but I can see some outlines of buildings and even of some of our ocelots.”
“Anyone fall behind?”
“Not that I’ve seen, centurion, but it’s possible. Someone could have gotten himself lost in the smoke, maybe not even on purpose….hmmm, let me check with the squads…”
“Present or accounted for,” answered first squad, just as an ocelot or tank fired a main gun round. “No casualties. Second, present…third, all present or accounted for, one casualty not to enemy fire…weapons, good to go.”
“We’re good, centurion,” the boy reported back.
“Fine, the tank gunners are” – there was another organ-churning report from a main gun – “doing their part.”
Bethany was frantically tearing away the office furniture piled in from of the door when Robin tackled her from behind, pulling her away and to the floor with as much gentleness as possible, then sitting on her and pinning her arms until she quieted down.
“What the fuck were you doing?” he asked.
It all came out in a rush: “We’ve got to get out of here! We’re going to die! They’re going to kill us all! I saw it, a building just disintegrated! We don’t stand a chance! We’ve got to…”
That last sentence was interrupted by Robin’s right hand slapping her across the left side of her face.
“What we’ve got to do,” he said, still as gently as possible, “is calm you down. Yes, we’ve got problems, but we’ve also got a job to do. The Peace Fleet depends on this base…”
She filled her lungs as if to scream, but calmed immediately as he released her left shoulder and showed her his open palm.
“And the families of most of the crews, to include the crew of our own ship, are here, with no one to defend them except you and me.
“We don’t have to hold on forever. The Zhong are coming to our rescue, I’ve been told. We need to hold on until they get here. Do you understand?”
She didn’t trust herself with full lungs. Instead, she nodded, three or four times, shallowly and quickly. She felt calm returning to her mind and body, but it wasn’t the calm of confidence. Instead, she found she had surrendered to the calm of resignation and helplessness. We don’t stand a chance, not a chance. I’m going to die – we all are – and there’s nothing any of us can do about it.
Robin mistook it when he felt her muscles relax and saw the look on her face. “Go on,” he said; “get your carbine and get back in position.”
We were never really trained for this, thought Rodrigues, not for the first time. He rest his back against the white stucco wall of a two story building, looking left and right as second and third squads piled inside through smashed windows, boosted up by first. There were muffled explosions and the distant staccato of automatic fire coming from inside.
A club, a city-fighting site at the academy we used maybe two or three times a year, some very quiet lectures and walk throughs aboard ship; those don’t make us experts in city fighting.
That doesn’t mean we’re going to lose; only that we’re going to lose more boys than an equivalent platoon of trained men would. And all of them are my friends. Damn.
“Casualties coming out!” shouted one of the team leaders from third squad, Cadet Corporal Franco, his head sticking out broken window. “Sitnikov and Mendez.”
“Medic!” Rodrigues shouted. “First squad, help our boys down.” Turning back to Franco, he asked, “How did it happen?”
“You don’t want to know, Rod.” Seeing a look cross Rodrigues’ face that insisted he very much did want to know, Franco said, “Friendly fire. Grenade. Mendez threw it so hard into a room it bounced back and went off under him and young Sitnikov.” Franco and someone else Rodrigues couldn’t see began smashing out the remnants of glass jutting inward from the window frame.
Rodrigues nodded, thinking, “Friendly fire…isn’t.”
Both boys were conscious, he saw, as they were lowered out the now cleared window. Both were also bleeding from maybe a dozen wounds each to their legs and abdomens. Both, too, were trying very hard not to scream as their comrades’ hands grasped those wounded legs to help them down.
As soon as they were flat on the ground, the medic, President Parilla’s grandson, also named Parilla, took their ponchos and spread them out, side by side, with a couple of flicks of the wrist. With the help of a couple of other boys, he got them lifted and placed on the relatively clean ponchos. He then proceeded to draw a scalpel and begin cutting their trousers away. Good, he thought, once he was able to see, you didn’t get your balls or dicks blown off. If my grandfather is to be believed, that will matter overwhelmingly in the not too distant future. Now let’s look for lesser damage. “Hey, you; get your canteen out and start pouring water to wash away the blood. I need to see what I’m doing.” Even if I have only half an idea of what I am supposed to do.
From inside came the voice of Centurion Vicente, loud, sarcastic, and angry. “Look, goddamit; grenades bounce. The enemy, if he’s ballsy, can pick them up and throw them back at you. Once you let the spoon fly off, count to three-thousand, and then throw them. And don’t mention quality control at the factory; I know all about it. But you still need to cook them off!”
Now you tell us, thought Rodrigues, along with Parilla, Franco, and, not least, Mendes and Sitnikov.
“And don’t say I didn’t tell you before,” continued Vicente, “because I did. Not my fault that for you youngsters some safety regs crept in about cooking off grenades. And Sitnikov” – here Vicente raised his voice a good deal to be heard clearly outside the building – “don’t forget that it was your old man who was running the academies all these years, either.”
Well, maybe you did. Shows the limited power of talking as opposed to doing, I suppose.
Bethany heard voices she couldn’t understand, shouts that held no meaning for her. The screams, though, of pain and fear, those she understood well enough.
They’re coming to kill me. I am going to die in agony. And no one will care.
She saw through the broken, ground level window, a small knot of her enemies, pounding across a street. She donated them a burst but hit, so far as she could tell, nothing. Nothing, at least, came of it except that she lost some of her hearing for the nonce.
I’m going to die in agony, no one will care, and it will be a completely useless, pointless, wasted death, too.
Professionals would have not only knocked out the window, they’d have put up some kind of wire, chicken wire in preference, to keep unfriendly objects like grenades out. Sadly, the crewmembers sent down to the base to buy time were not professionals in ground combat. The cadets, of course, weren’t either, but they didn’t need to be.
Two objects sailed in through the window almost simultaneously. One went past Bethany, leaving a thin trail of smoke, then hit the floor and rolled across it to the pile of furniture by the sole door. The other hit the light armor over her breasts, bounced away, hit the desk, then fell behind her precarious perch of tottering monitors.
She just turned and asked, “Petty Officer Robin, what’s…?” when the thing exploded.
The shrapnel from the grenade actually didn’t do much. But the one that had struck Bethany shattered the monitors, and sent a good deal of plastic and glass into her legs. It also rendered one eardrum insensate for the time being and burst the other. She screamed and went down.
The other grenade was, perhaps surprisingly, only a hexachloroethane-zinc smoke grenade. It burnt, rather than blasting, but in the burning it filled the room with hot, toxic smoke.
Recognizing the danger, Robin ordered, “Clear away the door, we’ve got to get out of here!” Then, holding what remained of his breath, he crawled across the floor to where Bethany lay. He grabbed her by the collar of her uniform and began dragging her across the smooth tile.
By the time he reached the now open door, the other members of his fire team were gone. He heard firing from outside the basement.
“Don’t shoot,” he cried. “We’re coming out. I’ve got wounded! Don’t shoot!”
Irene Temujin caught a glimpse of the familiar – and once hated – uniforms and came running out of Quarters One dancing, jumping, twisting in air for sheer joy at the prospect of liberation. They seem so young…have I truly gotten so old?
The cadets had already gotten the word: If they look poor and bedraggled, they’re probably on our side. No one, in any case, took a shot at her.
She brought herself up short at the first cadet she came to, dropped to both knees, and then took the cadet’s hand and began covering it with kisses.
“Thank you! Thank you! God bless you. God bless all of you for coming.”
“Miss…madame…I think maybe we have a case of mistaken identity. You probably want to see our commander.”
“Yesyesyes! Where is he? Who is he? Where can I find him? Oh, tellmetellmetellme! Where can I find him?”
The cadet took his firing hand off his rifle and jerked a thumb over his left shoulder in the direction of the central park for the place. “Command post’s back that way. Ask anyone for Hamilcar Carrera.”
UEPF Spirit of Peace
On the big Kurosawa screen in the ship’s main conference room, Marguerite Wallenstein watched the planet spin below in the center, while the left side quarter showed the entire island of Atlantis, annotated for the tactical situation on the ground, and the right showed in much greater detail the progress of the Balboan boys through the base, itself. She wondered if the boys were bothering to take prisoners, or just butchering the crew she’d sent down to try to buy some time,
She could see on the left screen that every latifundia on the island, too, was surrounded with a black circle, indicating that there was no communication with it and that the owners were likely either dead or in Balboan custody.
And, since the helicopters have stopped landing at the Class One and Two schools, I assume that all the children are in custody, too.