A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 15


“Therefore, the best warfare strategy is to attack the enemy’s plans, next is to attack alliances, next is to attack the army, and the worst is to attack a walled city.

Laying siege to a city is only done when other options are not available.”

–Sun Tzu

Academia Sergento Juan Malvegui,

Puerto Lindo, Cristobal Province, Balboa

The general’s helicopter came skipping in, just above the waves. Sure, the locals hadn’t been using their air defense much, but they’d already demonstrated that they could at any time, and that when they did it could be in devastating mass.

So why take the chance? thought Janier. What profit to it? The pilot of this crate can try to nab a fish with his skids; it’s all fine by me. Well . . . unless it’s a meg he tries for. Hmmm . . .

A meg, or megalodon, was one of the species transported by the Noahs to Terra Nova. To say they resembled great whites on steroids would be a serious understatement; the largest great white ever recorded on Old Earth wouldn’t have fed a meg for much past a day. At the thought of a meg, Janier unconsciously leaned out to check the water. He felt foolish as he did so. Then he thought about it a bit more and looked again, feeling not at all foolish.

At nearly the last second, the pilot pulled pitch, lifting his bird over the stone wall surrounding the old fort’s terreplein, then reversing that motion to come in fairly hard on the grass. Janier’s stomach tried to crawl out his anus, first, then out of his mouth.

Beats taking a missile up the ass.

With the chopper firmly on the ground, vibrating with the turn of the motor and the rotors it drove, Janier took off his soft cap and stuffed it into the same pocket into which he’d stashed the communicator given to him by High Admiral Wallenstein.

Would never do to get it sucked into the engine.

Janier’s Aide de camp Malcoeur, toted his chief’s helmet in a nylon bag, thereby allowing Janier to look ever so casual and unconcerned, while having at least that much measure of safety, safely hidden, nearby.

Head ducked perhaps a little lower than strictly necessary to avoid the blades churning overhead, Janier stepped to the ground and strode out to where his chief of staff, the newly promoted, rather short, stout, and fiercely intelligent looking Major General Francois d’Espérey, awaited. Breaking with custom and policy, Janier, which is to say the new and improved Janier, had reached down all the way to the, in his opinion, mostly no account-colonels of the Gallic Army to find a chief of staff he could have confidence in. D’Espérey was that man.

“The command post is all set,” announced the chief, as soon as Janier got close enough. Even at that, he had to lean in and shout to be heard over the helicopter’s steady beat. “Care for the tour, sir? It’s an interesting facility here, where Carrera trained some of the children he surprised us with.”

“Not yet,” Janier shouted back, also having to lean in to be heard. “Show me the port; that’s more important than any map or battery of radios and phones.”

“Yes, sir,” agreed the chief, leading the way across the terreplein to the gate that led out from the school. Malcoeur followed as a respectful distance.

D’Espérey continued, “We’ve got it pretty much intact. Even captured the facility where they built . . . maybe better said, molded . . . their coastal subs. And the scrap yard where they’ve been cutting up old warships.”

“Learn anything useful?” the general asked.

“Not much,” the chief admitted. “We came on too fast for them to destroy the facilities, but they had burn barrels running full steam to destroy the paper. Well, there was one thing.”

“That being?”

“If the Anglians prove difficult, the machine on which they molded the sections of their acrylic submarines has ‘Made in Anglia’ written all over it. And I mean really written, not figuratively.”

Janier laughed, then grew sober. You know, it just might be a useful stick to beat the Anglians with.

“There is one other thing, sir . . . but . . .”

“Yes, D’Espérey?”

D’Espérey took a deep breath, then continued, “But, sir, this is just a big damned trap. Or, at least, it’s intended to be.”

“Your reasoning?”

“It’s too easy,” the chief said. “It’s been impossibly easy. The army that ran us out of the country with our tails between our legs doesn’t neglect the danger we posed. I mean, they had to have known we were out there, with a base on Cienfuegos, another one in Santa Josefina, and an invasion fleet. The army that defeated the Zhong invasion fleet doesn’t forget about the threat elsewhere. The air force that dictated to us that we shall not send in our fighter-bombers in little penny packets does not forget to keep tabs. The navy that trashed the Zhong nuclear submarine fleet–and did no little damage to us, either–does not simply retire and get itself interned.”

“No chance they took the bait we set by the secondary effort at the port of Capitano?” Janier asked.

“A chance, sir? Maybe a chance. But I don’t believe it. As for bait, ‘Under fragrant bait,’ as the Zhong might say, ‘there is certain to be a hooked fish.’ We’ve been presented with just too much fragrant bait!”

Janier looked around and spotted a great stone slab, half sunk into the earth. He made a beeline for it, directing D’Espérey to follow. “Sit,” he ordered, when they reach the slab. “Sit, and I shall join you.”

“I go round and round on this myself, Francois,” Janier admitted. “When I talk to”–he pointed a finger skyward–“they can usually convince me that this is all just good generalship on my part, with maybe a little luck, and a lot of mistake on the part of the enemy. When I am alone with my thoughts, though, I tremble.”

“Me, too,” D’Espérey admitted. “Especially when I look at the logistic situation. Sir, we have to get Cristobal. I think that’s not just the key to the campaign, but the key to the enemy’s thinking.

“Fragrant bait, yes; that’s here. But he is probably assuming we can’t go anywhere much, or do anything much, until we take the port, the big port. It’s a fair assumption, too,” D’Espérey continued, “because to take the big port we need a lot of firepower and a lot of infantry. Which we cannot support–”

“–because,” Janier interrupted, “we can’t supply a big enough force to take Cristobal quickly through this little bay, however pretty and well-shaped it is.” Janier raised an eyebrow, saying, sardonically. “Yes, all that I’ve figured out on my own.”

“And taking the other ports further west,” said the chief, ignoring the eyebrow and the tone, both, “doesn’t really help because they add more to our defense problems than they solve for our offensive problems. And they’re tiny and primitive, to boot.”

Janier’s eyes rolled. “Yes, D’Espérey, I figured that one out on my own, too.”

The chief ignored that, too, saying, “But we don’t need them anyway. I think the mistake the enemy made was in not figuring out how quickly we can turn this little bay, which, at more than half a square kilometer is not so little as all that, into a big port. And we needn’t necessarily go to those far western ports, anyway.”

D’Espérey gestured expansively. “The sheer beauty and convenience of this port stymied the development of at least two more sheltered deep-water anchorages. One, the smaller one, is about a kilometer and a half northeast of here. It will do, with a little work, for lighters and landing craft. The other is barely connected to civilization by a remarkably shitty road, about eight kilometers southwest of here. We can improve that road, and we can make that bay a useful port. There’s a civilian marina there, already, though it’s abandoned for now. And there are about five more little bays that just might do with some work.