Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 16
And that’s why I picked this spot.
Marciano held out one hand, palm up. Automatically, an RTO placed a handset in the palm. Just as automatically, the general raised it to his face. He saw the first puff of smoke from the lead aircraft, a single puff, indication a ranging shot.
Marciano pressed the key and ordered, “Fire! Fire! Fire!”
Instantly and simultaneously, those three dozen machine guns opened up, firing from all around the clock and at a combined rate of over twenty-five thousand rounds per minute. Following the tracers, Marciano saw an oval of glowing bits materialize all around and especially just in front of the two attack craft. The second one flashed – probably hit some on board ordnance – and then began to tumble over to its left. A long burning, smoking descent followed, ending in a series of rumbling explosions, a considerable ball of flame, and then a rising cloud of oily smoke.
The lead bird, meanwhile, maybe in the hands of a more experienced pilot, jerked radically to port, apparently on that pilot’s having seen the first few tracers rising in front of him. The machine guns followed, continuing to place a wall of flying lead in front of the attacker. The pilot jerked in the other direct, then apparently pulled back on his stick enough to invert completely. He jerked left again, again, and then to the right yet again. Still the remorselessly vindictive fire followed him.
And then the plane wasn’t really there anymore. In its pace, instead, was an aerial fireball enclosing a mass of disassociated parts.
Unconsciously, Marciano crossed himself, offering a brief and silent prayer for the souls of his enemies.
“Okay,” the general said. “Now, Rall, I want the next few hours spent on getting the hell away from the roads and camouflaging everything to the Nth degree. Also get a couple more ambushes prepared, but hide the bait. If I know Fosa, and I do, he’s coming back with blood in his eyes and with everything he can get in the air. They’ve a long loiter time, those planes, so they’re going to hang around overhead for hours. Once they’re gone, they’re also slow, so we’ve got some hours to move like hell.”
“Where did you learn that, sir?” the Sachsen colonel asked.
Claudio laughed slightly. “From Carrera actually. Or how do you think he managed to get himself whole blocks of time to deploy and support his forces?”
BdL Dos Lindas, off the coast of Santa Josefina.
Fosa gripped the railing around Vultures’ Row so hard his knuckles turned white. Over the speakers, one of his pilots reported the ambush they’d flown into in heartbreaking detail for as long as he could. “Firing from all around the clock! Trixie Two-two is down, I repeat, ‘down.’ Crap, where did all this come from? Dozens, anyway. Jesus, I can’t dodge them forever. Bullets, not cannon she….”
The transmission cut out. For the next several minutes the bridge’s radioman attempted to reestablish communications. Finally, the commander of the air wing told him, “Forget it; he’s gone.”
“Air boss?” Fosa called, his voice calm and even. One would have to have known him very well to detect the murderous anger within it.
The entire bridge crew, which did know him well, thought, Oh, shit, somebody’s going to pay.
“Break out a couple of the partially broken down and stored reserve planes. Hold all flights. I want to assemble a very large strike package, everything we have. We’re going to go get our two lost men a fine funeral escort.”
“Sir! Umm…sir, it will take until nightfall.”
Fosa looked at the angle of the sun. Nightfall, yes. “So – barring the Gabriels, since they have integral night vision — make sure they have their NVGs.”
Road to Santa Cruz, Santa Josefina, Task Force Jesuit command post.
Marciano didn’t know how many recon drones came in the first wave. If he were to believe the reports, there were as many as fifty. Were he, instead, to believe his own eyes, he thought there might be four or five.
But the wise guess would be that there are maybe twelve. And they’re up there expressly looking to draw fire.
“This is exactly like what the guerillas felt like, isn’t it, sir?” asked Rall.
“I suppose. So?”
“So this; if they felt anything like I feel, with those sons of bitches hunting us from the sky, we had better not surrender under any circumstances. They’ll just stand us all against walls, unless, of course, they have enough rope and trees.”
“And you know this because?” Marciano asked.
“Because that’s what I’d like to do to them.”
At this point, thought General Marciano, I suppose he’s right. We can’t surrender to the Santa Josefinans, when the time comes that we can’t hang on anymore. I suppose I’d best put del Collea to finding the materials to build us our own internment camp. Maybe some land, too…something with a beach, I think.
“They’re spotted something,” Rall announced, pointing to a spot where one drone circled and to which at least two more appeared to be hurrying.
“Who’s over there?” Claudio asked.
“A mess unit,” Rall answered. “One set up to feed the troops passing up the road. Maybe they didn’t get the…”
Suddenly, the treed area under the circling drone flashed with what seemed a mix of thermobaric, high explosive, and incendiary. Claudio looked to where the fire seemed to have come from just in time to see one of those wide-winged crop dusters ducking down behind the treeline.
“…word,” Rall finished.
Looking through his light amplified field glasses, the general saw a fair number of his men running away from the targeted mess. That was the cue for two more of the attack aircraft to swoop in. From underneath each plane two silvery canisters dropped, tumbling end over end until they reached the ground. From where they touched down four long tongues of flame leapt out, continuing in the same direction as the plane that had dropped them, engulfing the soldiers caught inside.
He didn’t need light amplification for this; with his bare eyes Marciano saw a dozen men disappear inside the curtain of fire. That was bad, but not so bad as the three human torches he saw running out of the flames, burning from head to foot, dripping fire from whatever remained of fingers on waving, burning arms. One by one the three fell, to lie writhing on the ground until death, mercifully, took them.
Shaking his head slowly in the waning light, Claudio thought, No, we can’t surrender to the guerillas at all, can we? Every one of them is going to have a memory close enough to that that they’ll want to skin us alive.
There were half a dozen more attacks between sunset and roughly midnight. Two of those were on point, and some of the men of Task Force Jesuit died under them. The rest appeared to be an attempt to spook the defenders into exposing themselves. The attackers were, in any case, few enough in numbers that Marciano took them to be stragglers or late launchers.
Marciano listened carefully for the time came that there was no more buzzing, whether of drones or manned recon birds or strike aircraft. It came not long before midnight. At that point, he told Rall, “Turn the men out. Get them moving fast. Balls to the wall for the planned battle positions. Traffic accidents, to include fatal ones, are, at least to some extent, acceptable. We’ve got to move before those bastards can refuel, rearm, and come back for more.”