Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 23
Whoever makes me unhappy for a day, I will make suffer a lifetime.
–Empress Dowager Cixi
Task Force Macera, surrounding Task Force Jesuit
He’d given it his best shot, Macera had, but his best hadn’t been good enough. Oh, he and his tercio-sized, reinforced cohort had pursued long, fast, and hard. They’d gone hungry as many days as not, and still kept it up. Through darkest, slipperiest night and hottest, muggiest day, through rain and high winds, shedding weight with every forward step, they’d tried to grab hold of the Taurans’ tails and slow them down before they reached a defensible position.
And all for nothing¸ Macera cursed his luck. Here they are and here they are digging in like beavers.
Macera could hear the sounds, actually. It should not have been possible at this distance but, When you’ve got nine or ten thousand people cutting trees and shoveling out dirt, I suppose it can carry.
Food had been pretty much catch as catch can during the pursuit. Oh, the helicopters had tried but, as the distance from their base areas increased, the helicopters had been forced from using two to support Macera and two to ferry support to the helicopters, to one and three, and then, for the last hundred miles, to just about a three sorties every two days. Since arrival here at the doorstep of the Taurans, even that had proven impossible to keep up.
Macera and his men were borderline starving.
Estado Mayor, Sub camp C, Ciudad Balboa, Balboa
There was no longer a security or survival need for the General Staff and Carrera to operate out of the cramped and uncomfortable, but happily fairly bomb-resistant, camp.
“On the other hand,” observed Carrera, “the other one is flatter than a pancake except where a piece of the former wall looks like it was chewed by a Meg, so we really have nowhere else to go for now. And probably not for a while.”
Soult shrugged; none of his business and he didn’t really care where the Estado Mayor hung out, his concerns were with the care, feeding, and transportation of a Carrera. The latter, though he wasn’t drunk, or not yet, had put away a few. He might get drunk, too.
“And why not?” he asked Soult, rhetorically. “Pretty much everything is out of my hands and has been since the Die Hards surrendered. Soult started to object but Carrera shushed him. “Pour yourself a drink and have a seat, Jamie; I’ll let you in on a secret.”
Soult did pour himself one, then, though he was a lot less generous with his own drink than he had been with Carrera’s. He took the bottle with him.
Once he was settled in, Carrera said, “You know, the history books are going to say all kinds of interesting things about me. Most of it will be lies, some good, some bad. Among the lies the biggest will be that I was in control start to finish, here. This will be closely followed by the idiot notion that I never made a mistake.
“To take the latter first, Jamie, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, from fucking up my own logistics in Sumer, back when we started…well, let me tell you, if Adnan Sada had had his brigade within twenty miles of where our point finally stalled out in the desert – you remember that sandstorm? Jesus! – he’d have beaten the shit out of us. And that wasn’t the only one. Oh, no.
“Dropping the bridge outside Ninewah under the nose of that asshole, Lamprey? We’re lucky we didn’t end up needing the Federated States’ help, just sheerly lucky. That fuckhead is pretty well-placed now to have sabotaged everything if we’d asked for help. And he can hold a grudge as well as I can, too.
“Humiliating Pigna in public to the point where he joined the opposition and launched a coup? Well…I already paid for that one, maybe in a couple of ways.
“The fleet action Fosa has upcoming? He’s on his own; he’s going to be out of range of anything I can send him. The Moslem rebellion in the Tauran Union? Bastards couldn’t wait for the fucking signal, oh, no. Atlantis Base itself? That was my boy and, I am pretty sure, Alena the Witch, in action after my little yacht fucking half blew up. Control? Hah! My ass!”
Carrera held out his glass for a refill.
“There is no justice Jamie, none whatsoever. Speaking of which…” Carrera hit his intercom button. “Is Captain Gold here yet?”
Came the answer, “Yes, Duque; he’s been cooling his heels for fifteen minutes.”
“Send him in.”
Turning back to Soult, Carrera said, “Oh, there are still a few things I can do.”
A few silent moments passed before a knock on the door announced Gold’s presence. He was a tall, slender, mustached merchant skipper, though not in uniform at the moment. As a member of Balboa’s merchant fleet, Pedro Gold was also part of the hidden reserve. As such, he’d made two supply runs before the main Tauran invasion then hightailed it for a neutral port to await being called forward again.
Carrera gestured at an open chair. “Have a seat, Gold. Jamie, get the captain a drink, would you?”
“Ice, skipper?” Soult asked.
“Please, Mr. Soult. Much ice; I’m not a heavy drinker.”
“So how’s the Alberto Helada at the moment?” Carrera asked.
“Fine, Duque.” Gold gave a little shrug. “She’s sailing up under my exec. Per orders, I flew up here on my own.
“She’s supposed to hold prisoners, right? I’ve got the food, some bunks, stoves, porta-potties…basically everything for ten or twelve thousand men. It’s for the POWs, like the others, isn’t it?”
Carrera gave a wicked, somewhat whisky-fueled smile. “Well, no, not exactly. You see I have this odd kind of mission…”
When the mission was explained, in full, Carrera added, “He’s going to say, “et dona ferentes.” I can hear him saying it as if I was standing there.”
Walking to his desk, Carrera picked up a sealed envelope. “When he says it, give him this. My penmanship is awful, so there’s a typed transliteration.”
“He’s a madman, you know, your boss,” Gold said to Soult as the latter drove him to an ad hoc heliport not far from the city.
Soult might have taken umbrage except that they were, after all, on the same side. And, besides, “Oh, skipper, you have no fucking idea how much of a madman he can be.”
Reaching the heliport, Gold noticed a series of pallets being loaded aboard one of the helicopters. “And those, I suppose, as the small boats and motors he spoke of.”
“I’d be guessing if I said, skipper. In any case, that’s your chopper. You can ask the crew. I will say that, at about a sixth of a ton, each, that helicopter is probably going to be carrying between twenty and twenty-four of them.”
Khalid was surprised at how quickly two of his fellow agents showed up, knocked on his door and announced, “Saints Peter and Paul.” He didn’t know either of them or, if he did, plastic surgery had done for any chance of recognition.
One was tall and blond, blue-eyed, too, and looked so Sachsen he could have passed as Alix’s brother. That one answered to “Fritz,” though privately he said his name was originally “Abdul.” Another, slender, swarthy, and decidedly Arab-looking, answered to “Tim.”
“It’s what my friends call me,” said Tim.
Fritz added, “I’ve been Fritz so long it’s what I’ve gotten used to answering to. And, before you ask, I was born here, to revert parents, and rejected the whole ‘submission’ thing as a boy. I’m an immigrant to Balboa, like you.”
“There were supposed to be two of us,” Fritz said, “but the other never met me at the rendezvous point.”
“You’re Balboan?” Alix asked. “What are you doing here? What…” She had a sudden glimmering of a horrible truth.
Khalid sighed. This moment had always been, after all, inevitable. “We’re officially enemies, Alix. I’ve been working for Balboa, to include delivering arms to the Moslems in Sachsen, for a number of years now.”
“Then you…” Her fist flew to her own mouth. She bit down hard on it.
“We all follow orders, Alix,” Khalid said. “Yes, you ended up in very unfortunate circumstances because of those orders. You also, please note, ended up saved from very unfortunate circumstances because of those. And because we follow orders, you’ve a chance to get your army back to undo some of the damage we’ve done you because of the damage your country helped bring on mine.”
She dropped the fist. Her eyes flashed and her lips curled into a sneer. “That’s what you call ‘unfortunate circumstances;’ finding myself with my bottom bare, face down on the cobblestones, and a string of scum taking their turns sticking their cocks up my ass?”