A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 03

Rojas feigned to ignore that, and looked over the stacks of packaged rations for the hundredth time. The hide held enough for three men for right at sixty-six days, which is to say, a pile about four feet, by five feet, by four, containing six hundred meals, or between thirteen and fourteen of each of the Legion’s forty-five menus. Legion rations tended to be bulkier and heavier, both, than rations from places like the Tauran Union and the Federated States. On the other hand, they contained cigarettes and rum, both canned, which had made them highly prized trade goods wherever the legions had deployed with allies. They also tended to be calorically pretty dense, even beyond the rum. The sixty-six days of rations would probably do for twice that time, given the sedentary life they were facing for the nonce.

“Unless, of course, the supply rats fucked us,” murmured Rojas, “in which case we’ll be ready to kill each other out of . . .”

He stopped the murmuring as Domingo, scrambling like a frightened rat, emerged from the tunnel. The Cazador slithered onto the floor then lay still for several moments, panting with exertion or with something else. After he flipped over on his back, Rojas could see that Domingo had gone unusually pale, even by the dim artificial light in the shelter.

“Listen!” insisted the Cazador.

“Wha . . . ?”

Listen, Sergeant!”

Rojas made a motion at the other man in the hide, Flores, for him to be quiet, to shush. Then he listened carefully for several long moments.

“What is it?”

“Helicopters,” answered Domingo. “Not ours. Not our type. Troop carriers. Big ones. Little ones. Gunships. They’re everywhere.

“The invasion’s on,” said Rojas, heart sinking. “We knew they were in range, but . . . I’d hoped . . . oh, well.”

IV Corps Headquarters, Magdalena, Cristobal Province, Balboa

The bombing-induced pall of smoke hanging over the area did nothing to disguise the invasion coming in to hem it in on three sides. Though the Taurans made a fair effort to disguise their intent with a mix of false directions on the part of their helicopter streams, false insertions to the east, west, and north, and liberal blasting of likely spots for observation posts, it just wasn’t that big an area, hence just couldn’t provide all that much in the way of options. The only real question had been, “Will they try to seize it directly, by a coup de main, or surround it for a more formal siege?”

There was never really a chance of the former, thought Legate Xavier Jimenez, watching for glimpses of the naval aerial assault from the safety of a small bunker outside his concrete headquarters, itself under a fairly new apartment building in the old gringo town of Magdalena. More’s the pity; I could have beaten that handily.

From the town itself, as well as from the city of Cristobal and all the other towns in the area, most civilians had been evacuated to the refugee area on the Mar Furioso side. That refugee area had fallen under Zhong occupation. Jimenez had reports of a vicious guerilla war that had broken out all over that part of the country, as well as east and west of it, the guerilla movement being fueled by Carrera’s Tercio Amazona, reinforced by a slice of the Cazadors and a sprinkling of retired legionaries, along with a few contract specialists in guerilla warfare, and the heavily reinforced Fifth Mountain Tercio, all under the broad direction of Sixth Corps, which was mainly composed of citizens of the Republic.

Legate Xavier Jimenez had long since given up the immense Cristobal brownstone that had served as his corps’ headquarters since formation. This was just as well, since the brownstone was a ruin, and anyone who had been caught inside it during the bombings was either dead or wounded or, at best, twitching badly. He didn’t even know how many Tauran bombs had hit the place; there had been that many.

The bunker holding Jimenez and his key staff had been put into the basement of the apartment complex, outside the city, built as part of a Legion program, about seven years before. The intent had from the beginning been less about providing housing and more about hiding the contingency headquarters.

There was an alternate staff of about equal size in another location, under Jimenez’s executive officer. They did routine work to keep things functioning but could take over command if the main command post were destroyed or cut off.

Almost none of the fortifications in and near Cristobal matched or even came close to matching those built on the Isla Real. In the city, itself, the water table was just too high. Instead of bunkers and trenches, most positions in the town were sangars erected inside the ground floors of buildings. Tunneling, except from building to building, was right out, though some prefabricated steel arches, made to fit together, connected certain positions. These, too, where possible, were sheltered under pre-existing construction.

Outside the town the fortifications were better; bunkers, shelters, trenches, and a fairly complex obstacle system. There were even a couple of strongpoints built on key terrain, plus a number of very strong positions inherited from the Federated States, both in the town and flanking it. Some of the latter, however, had already been blasted pretty badly on the surface, though their underground components still served as excellent shelters for headquarters, medical facilities, and supply.

A flurry of shockwaves assaulted Jimenez, as he stood half covered, watching the busy air. They’ve got their artillery in, I see, or, at least, some of it. I mark those as One-fifty-fives. Ouch. Still, no big surprise there, except how quickly the Taurans can move when they decide to take something seriously. Interesting, though, that they’re putting their guns in out of range of most of the things I have to hit them with, my 160mm mortars. And my relatively few guns and rocket launchers I cannot yet risk.

With a thin smile, Jimenez thought, I suppose we should be flattered they’ve decided to take us seriously.

A new sound entered the battle space and Jimenez’s consciousness. Multi-engined propeller-driven transports . . . and there they are.

To the northeast of where he stood, the legate caught sight of a stream of lumbering, fat bellied aircraft, from the foremost of which poured a stream of parachutists. They jumped frightfully low.

Ballsy fucks, the Sachsens, thought Jimenez. Got to be them, at least in the main, since the Gauls’ para brigade died at Herrera International and the Anglians were smashed at Lago Sombrero. The Sachsens are the only major country in the Tauran Union that still has an airborne capability of any size. Yeah . . . got to be them, maybe with some augmentations from lesser states.

Also, an interesting way to reinforce quickly, provided the drop zone is secure. I suppose security was Job One for the people who came in by helicopter.

A uniformed radio-telephone operator, an intensely beautiful and very young black female corporal named “Asilos,” from Cristobal, emerged from the bunker, carrying a field phone in one hand, and the phone’s handset in the other. The phone trailed a wire across the concrete floor.

“Sir,” she said, interrupting Jimenez’s thoughts even as she proffered the phone. “Sir, Ninth Legion is asking for permission to retire on the city and assume their defensive positions. Their commander says it’s now or never, at least for his more exposed units.”

“Thanks, Sarita,” answered Jimenez, taking the phone. The legions tended to informality, after all, and if there was any senior officer Carrera trusted not to be screwing the female staff, nor showing favoritism, it was certainly Jimenez.

“Jimenez,” said the legate into the phone. “. . . no, not yet . . . you can fight to keep the lines of withdrawal open . . . yes, I am fully aware that means blood . . . yes, I know you don’t want to waste the lives of your boys and girls on a losing endeavor . . . tough shit, Legate; we can’t let them just walk in and take over. Fight, damn you!”