A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 31


“We are the worm in the wood!

“We are the rot at the root!

“We are the taint in the blood!

“We are the thorn in the foot!”

–Kipling, A Pict Song

Moseal Fluss, near Treverorum, Sachsen

The Tauran Union, Khalid the Druze, decided, has two big problems stemming from one bigger one. The two problems are that it not only has no defense in depth, but it has no defense on its extremities, either. That, of course, is because of the bigger problem, the people running the place.

What spurred the thought were the dozen packages of rifles and rocket launchers, mines and machine guns, grenades and demolitions, plus a fair load of ammunition, that he and two of his devout Moslem assistants, Maytham and Bandar, had brought up the river network without anything resembling hindrance, to a place near this city located near the border between Sachsen and Gaul. Where the arms had actually come from Khalid didn’t know and didn’t want to know. He suspected a factory somewhere in the Volgan Republic was turning out lower receivers without serial numbers at Fernandez’s or Carrera’s behest. For that matter, who knows; maybe our side owns the factory. Though I don’t know why we would, since we developed our own family of small arms. Maybe Carrera and Fernandez think that far ahead. I’ll have to ask someday, Allah permitting.

Under the declining sun, their boat, a small yacht, passed picturesque towns, banks covered with vines, church towers, and centuries-old ivy-encrusted stone fortifications. Nobody stopped them. Nobody questioned them.

I suppose they’re afraid that if they were stopping boats and questioning people, they’d find out how many illegal immigrants were coming in. Worse, they might actually find some illegal immigrants and then have to escort them to the nearest refugee acceptance center. That, of course, would never do. And turning them away? Unthinkable!

Ordinarily, the Druze were a pretty much live and let live people and faith. Moreover, they tended to a fierce loyalty to their homelands. That loyalty, however, was not likely to survive damage done to the Druze in those homelands. Moreover, since Islam considered the Druze to be irredeemable heretics, that kind of eventual damage was a given. To combat that, the Druze tended to hide who and what they were except among their own.

Khalid didn’t let even the mildest trace of this thoughts appear on his face. Rather, he kept them off the face he currently wore. He’d had so much reconstructive work done in the legion medical facilities that he wasn’t quite sure what he used to look like, anymore.

The plastic surgery, though, wasn’t the reason for the blank face. Rather, he, as a good Druze who had had a goodly chunk of his family murdered by a Moslem-planted terrorist bomb, many years before, in Sumer, thoroughly detested Moslems and Islam, even while manipulating them to do the will of his adopted country.

Oh, sure, I’ll make exceptions for the odd decent one, but I wouldn’t lift a finger to save those few if by not lifting it I could get rid of all the rest. And these two fanatical minions I’ll use like cheap whores and toss aside when and if they become inconvenient.

Savoring that happy thought for a while, Khalid almost missed the lighthouse that was his check point for a turn into a tributary of the Moseal, the Konzer Fluss. Bandar had to point it out to him, even while Maytham was already bringing the wheel over in that direction.

Khalid made a hand motion, the universal palm down and parallel to the ground or water pumping that said, “lower the volume” or “slow it down,” context depending. Maytham immediately grasped and pulled back on the boat’s throttle.

From a pocket Khalid pulled out a small notebook containing the calculations that would put him in precisely the right spot, at precisely the right levels of darkness, to dump his cargo overboard to where some of the more devout members of a local mosque would recover it.

He turned to the last fading embers of sun, checked position against the lighthouse and decided, Should be just about right on time.

To Bandar, he said, “Start inflating the floats for the first four packages. Stand by to help me with the tank after that.”

Less than half a minute later, there came the sound of rushing air as Bandar filled the first of eight flotation devices for the first two packages for this delivery. When he was done he informed Khalid, who simply nodded in the gathering gloom.

Looking ahead off the starboard bow, Khalid saw a van parked by a small civil park with boat ramp, a half dozen men and a couple of women in burkas standing around. They were the only ones there; any Sachsens who might have wanted to enjoy the park in the evening having scurried off to avoid the Moslem presence and the implied, and usually overstated, threat. Khalid put on a set of night vision goggles, turned them on, and then pulled out a throwaway cell phone. He lifted the goggles, fiddled a bit, then dialed a pre-set number. Pulling the goggles back into position he was gratified to see someone ashore answer his call. He couldn’t see it, but he could hear that the van had coughed to life. He could also see a couple of the men waiting there strip to their shorts and dive into the water, one of them with a rope wrapped round his waist.

Khalid ordered Maytham to close on the park, then said to Bandar, “Okay, let’s get the cargo over the side.”

Taking opposite sides of a large package, two crates, tied together and the whole assembly wrapped up in a plastic tarp, sealed with duct tape. Khalid and Bandar lifted it and began to carry it to the side. The two dozen firearms inside, one sniper rifle, one general-purpose machine gun, two light machine guns and twenty rifles, weighed a bit over two hundred and forty pounds. There wasn’t enough air trapped inside to float that much weight, which is where the four flotation devices, each of about six cubic feet, came in.

Waddling sideways, Khalid and Bandar got the package to the boat’s gunwales. With an effort they heaved it over, a thin but strong line running out from the ship behind it.

“Okay, ammunition now,” Khalid said. When they went to that package, it could be seen that the line ran from it to the previous package.


With four connected packages in the water, the swimmers had no hope of actually moving the things by their own power. Instead, while the boat still dragged the packages behind it, they got their own stout rope around the one nearest the boat.

“We’ve got it,” a swimmer called to Khalid, as loudly as he dared.

“Cut the line, Bandar.”

Two more drops, two more armed mosques, and we’re done with this section of Sachsen.

Though I wonder still what part this plays in the grand plan. That there is a grand plan, of course, and that all this is part of it, I have no doubt.

“Ahead slow, Maytham,” Khalid said. “I don’t trust the waters of any river.”

MV ALTA (Cochinese Registry), Puerto Rodil, Bolognesia del Sol

The smell of the sea, which is to say the smell of rotting vegetation, fish, and the occasional dead bird, where sea met land, was strong here.

The interior of the ship was hot, dull, and a generally unenviable place to live. Music was mostly forbidden. Competitive team physical games were forbidden. And time on deck was tightly rationed for everybody except Hamilcar, who wasn’t allowed on deck at all.

“No, Ham,” Terry the Torch Johnson had insisted, “You look enough like a mix of your father and mother, who are both rather well-known faces, these days, that we can’t risk someone getting a shot of your face and doing computer analysis of it. So, you, my boy, will stay below, even at sea.”

It was especially galling insofar as his best wife, Pililak, or Ant, was back home in Balboa. Everyone had been a little surprised that she, who had crossed the country at considerable risk to find her Hamilcar, had allowed herself to be left behind. Alena the witch explained it perfectly, “She would surely prefer to be here with her god, Iskandr, but her duty is to give birth to Iskandr’s firstborn. And Pililak the Chosen is a girl of staunch duty.”

I imagine that, hot as this ship is, with Ant here I’d be roasting in bed with her. Can you give yourself heatstroke from screwing? Maybe best not to have the chance of finding out.

The ship’s heat came from the problem of dumping excess heat without being noticed. They didn’t know what the United Earth Peace Fleet could sense, hence had to presume that it could possibly see a trail of unusual temperature left behind a ship, either in the air or in the water, if that ship were dumping an unusual level of excess heat. Pushing two thousand men was likely to create that much, the more so if it were pumped into the air and water. Music, games, and anything noisy had to be curtailed lest somebody’s submarines or surface sonar or permanent underwater battery of microphones pick up the sound and get suspicious. There was a small area that had been specially soundproofed at the Cochin naval yard where the ship had been converted, but that area was only twenty by twenty feet, and two decks deep. Eight hundred square feet of recreation area worked out to something less than one half of a square foot per man aboard. Subtract for the books and the recreation center was preposterously tiny. On the other hand, it was just peachy for a command post to plan an attack.