Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 29
Ham ran to the ladder but stopped, sparing one glance, maybe a last one, at the woman who had, as much as his mother, raised him. Turning away he practically flew down the ladder, then used the ladder as an anchor to spin around to the next one down, and flew through that, too…
…and entered a kind of hell on earth. There was hot smoke floating in the passageways, and men…oh, and boys, too…were crying out for help from somewhere deeper in the ship.
He found David Cano, Alena’s husband, in consultation with some member of the ship’s crew.
“How bad is it?” Ham asked Cano.
“Not as bad as it looks. One maniple of cadets was assembled in one of the corridors under the explosion – what the fuck was the explosion, Ham? – and they’re…well, not many survivors and those few are too badly hurt. The hovercraft, the tanks, the helicopters, and the Ocelots are all fine. But instead of a dozen maniples of cadets, we have eleven.”
“It was one of our own rockets’ warheads that went off, David,” Ham said. “That set off two or three more. From up top it looks bad, but that’s only the top. Ships don’t sink from the top up.”
“Where’s Legate Johnson?” Cano asked.
“He…he didn’t make it. I am taking command.”
“Alena told you to, didn’t she?”
“Yes. You would know, if anyone would. She’s hurt, by the way. As her husband you’ve a right to know.”
“Will she live?”
“I’m not an expert. She’s lost some blood, but she was conscious and alert when I left her. I do think she’ll live.”
Cano breathed a heartfelt sight of relief. “Thank God for that. As for how I knew, she said that it should be you, if things went to crap. I trust her judgment, even though she is biased where you are concerned. I will follow. Some of the others might have trouble taking orders from a boy, after all. I’ll keep them in line.”
“Thank you. I’d hate to have to face your wife after she recovers if I hadn’t obeyed her orders.”
At that, Cano, despite the circumstances, laughed. “You or me. Thataboy! Now what are your orders?”
“I’m going to go look over the damage. While I’m gone, first, I want…”
UEPF Spirit of Peace
The ship was already engulfed in smoke by the time Khan returned to the monitor. Sudden eruptions of fire illuminated the smoke inside, flashing like lightning inside a storm system, first here, then there, and then somewhere else.
Khan scrolled in to bring the ship into greater focus. It was only then that he caught the waves of foot-wide somethings surging out from the ship toward the island base.
The blood drained from Khan’s face, leaving it a ghastly white. “Oh, shit! Oh, fucking elder gods! The base is under attack!”
There were no other officers present in intelligence. No, wait, young Miranda, here, is commissioned.
“I want to you take charge here. Forget the embassies we’ve been watching. Split your efforts between that ship – dirty bastards waited until they were just about in range before they declared war! – and the island. I’ve got to go see the High Admiral now!”
“Yes, sir! I will, sir.”
“Call the High Admiral,” Khan yelled over his shoulder. “Tell her Atlantis Base is under attack and that I am coming to her quarters!”
Ham pressed himself against a bulkhead to allow two men carrying a stretcher to pass. The bearers wore masks. The undersized form on the stretcher, he saw, was blackened and charred over a good part of the body; in places it was impossible to tell what were scraps of burnt cloth and what were strips of skin. Somehow the poor boy on the canvas still hung onto life, whimpering softly into arms crossed over his face.
Taking the implied hint, Ham took a mask from a dispenser and put it on. No more stretchers came. I wonder why just the one? Maybe they did well getting the wounded out.
With the stretcher having passed, Ham continued onward. Further ahead he found the answer to the stretcher question; men and boys, but more of the latter by a factor of twenty, lay, fully equipped but heaped and tangled with each other. The corpses made a solid carpet. Nowhere could Ham see a piece of deck to place a foot; he had to step not just over but onto the bodies to keep going.
Carrera’s son shuddered, then muttered, “Dead, all dead; an entire maniple of dead.” He was too much his father’s son not then to think, And how do I find replacements for them? For they must be replaced. That, or the plan must change and in a hurry.
Smoke poured overhead, hugging the top of the passageway, while water – deeply red-tinged, to be sure, with odd bits of solid black in it – eddied around the bodies. Ahead, Ham heard cursing and the sound of high-pressure hoses.
He steeled his heart and soul to what he had to do. Whispering, “Sorry, friends,” he stepped onto one of the bodies. That done, the next was easier, and the next easier still. At length, he came to a naval non-com, directing the crews of two hoses. They all wore silvery suits.
“Status?” Ham demanded, briefly lifting the mask off his face.
The non-com didn’t turn to look who had asked. Nor did he seem to notice that the asker’s voice was young. Lifting his own mask, he leaned sideways toward Ham and shouted, “Iffy, sir. We’ve got the fires mostly contained down here, but the real problem is up on the missile deck above us; we don’t know how many rockets and warheads failed to launch and are still unexploded.” The sailor replaced the mask, took a few deep breaths, and continued, “The division chief took himself and another man in fireproof suits to inspect but they haven’t come back yet. I’m starting to worry.”
Suddenly two men emerged from a side corridor. They moved awkwardly up to the non-com, one man leaning heavily on the other. On closer inspection, that one being half carried had blood seeping through some tears in his silver firefighter’s suit.
Said the one helping to carry the other, “No more rockets unexpended, but I think there’s a warhead – writing’s all burned off so no idea if it’s mines or high explosive or FAE or submunitions – sitting on the deck. It’s hotter than Hades up there; we’ve got to fight our way to it and cool it down!”
“Great, sir,” said the non-com directing the hose parties.
“Can you do it?” Ham shouted.
“That or die trying,” answered the division chief.
“Not good enough. I repeat, ‘Can you do it’?”
The division chief answered, “We partly did, using hand-held fire extinguishers. Then some little goddamned bomb went off and tore up my sailor, here. I’m going to grab another man, and four more extinguishers. Then we’re going to try to get it to where we can shove it over the side. Big gash in the hull, up there, so we might be able to.”
Ham felt in the air several noticeable concussions.
“What the hell was that?”
The sailor answered, “Bomblets. Well…big bomblets. One of the warheads that went off must have been carrying submunitions. Not a danger to the ship, but it’s a danger to the people trying to save the ship.”
“Is there anything anybody can do to help you?” Ham asked.
“If you believe in God, pray for us and for the ship!”
“I’ll do that, but God helps those who help themselves…..hmmm, I might have an idea.”