Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 37
Beach Red, Atlantis Island
“Can we get through to my dad, yet?” Ham asked one of the commo rats, a short and dark sergeant.
“No promises; I can try.”
The old man had set Hamilcar to studying war since he’s been a very little boy. However, high tech communications were not among the things he’d been taught in any detail. Instead, all he’d learned was what they could, with a little luck, do. Thus, the various whistles, beeps, crackles, and sound tones meant nothing to him. He hoped they signaled progress. He stared at the directional satellite antenna as if hoping to see a message coming out.
The commo rat handed Ham a handset. “Your father’s on the line. It’s secure, so you can speak freely, but it’s iffy, so speak quickly.”
The old man sounded very chipper, saying, “Hello, son, how goes the battle?”
“A little iffy, so far, dad. We’re ashore and driving civilians toward the base or dropping them off nearby, if they’re too far out. The Peace Fleet seems to be reinforcing, but the rocket strike on their main barracks, well…I’ve seen what the drones saw and there’s not much there but the bodies of the dead and dying. No…likely all dead by now. The ship had a misfire on one of the rockets…and…well…I don’t know how to tell you this, but…well…Legate Johnson…I know he was one of your oldest friends…and…I’m sorry to say…he didn’t make it.”
Carrera the elder whispered something into his own phone, at the far end. Ham wasn’t quite sure but it sounded a lot like, De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine…
That doesn’t sound chipper at all. But he had to know so he can decide if he should relieve me and put Cano in charge,
Ham continued, “I’ve taken command, which was not in the plan. Seems to be working so far but I’ll credit that mostly to Alena’s husband, who’s been running interference and kicking ass for me. He deserves a nice promotion, dad.”
“We haven’t had much in losses – hardly anyone – once ashore, dad, but we lost over a hundred cadets on the ship from the explosion. Yeah, I don’t envy you telling their parents….”
“Right. Now what about the Valpo air force? Are they coming or…”
Ham heard another series of clicks and tones, and then the connection dissolved in static.
“We’ve lost it,” said commo. “Shall I try again? I can do better, I think, once we get out of this bowl of a beach and onto some high ground.”
“We’ll wait,” said Ham. “I told the old man everything he needs to know for now. Pass on to all cohorts and maniples, ‘charlie mike’ – continue the mission. And the rest of us, prepare to displace closer to the base.”
Latifundia Amistad, Atlantis Island
The platoon had spent the whole night rounding people up, pointing others in the direction of the base and sending them off under guard, liberating slaves. All of that, while tiring, hadn’t been especially dangerous, a matter of considerable relief to Centurion Vicente and of considerable disappointment to his cadets.
Now, with orders received over the radio, the platoon would soon be going into action. Two helicopters were en route for the platoon and the few special prisoners it had taken. Ambassador-without-portfolio Claudia Nyere was one of these, though her daughter and those other upper crust children seized at the boarding school hear Finca Mixcoatl, were not.
This last one, before the choppers showed up…Odd, damned odd, thought Vicente. Most of the shitheels in charge of this place deserve everything that’s coming to them and more. But there are a few…Well, five exactly, by reports… whose slaves vouched for their kindness, sympathy, and humanity. And this one…
He’d been skeptical at first, but no matter how much he dug, there were no crosses, no gallows, no whipping or branding posts – no whips or branding irons, for that matter – and no barred pits in the ground. The slaves looked a lot healthier and vastly happier, too. Those slaves, a dozen of them, clustered around the woman as if shielding her.
“I am Centurion Vicente, Timocratic Republic of Balboa. You? Why are you different? Why do your slaves care for you?” the centurion asked, speaking over the small crowd of clutching men, women, and children, all with fear-filled eyes.
You, know; I think these people will fight for her if we try to take her.
The owner, a woman, Esther Shazli – Damned fine looking woman, too, if you ask me – said, “I know what the system is that I was born into, Centurion. I know it’s rotten and that so are most of the people in it. I am only one; I cannot help what others do. But I am still one and must do what I can.”
She really was good looking, too, especially for a woman probably about two hundred and fifty years old. Tall, slender, huge brown eyes. She was shapely if perhaps a bit small breasted, a fact easy to see since, like most of the women of old Earth, she was, as usual, topless.
Vicente considered what she’d said, then answered. “I am only one, too, and under authority, to boot. But I will do what I can. You hide, stay hidden. Dress like your slaves…”
“Servants,” Esther corrected, “and friends.”
“Who gives a shit what you call them; dress like them anyway. And stay low. If I can, I’ll come and tell you when you can come out. If I never can come…think twice before revealing yourself.”
He heard the insistent whine of inbound helicopters.
“And now, Madame, I must go.”
“I’ll consider what you’ve said.”
“Consider my ass,” Vicente answered, “Get your shapely posterior hidden!”
The helicopter that picked up Vicente, Rodrigues, and their platoon of cadet infantry skimmed the ground, wheels low enough to snag the odd bush. It wasn’t the most fuel-efficient way to travel, wing-in-ground effect or not, but it had the distinct virtue that should one of those laser defense towers still be operational it would be unlikely to spot and engage them.
The island wasn’t all that big, really. The trip to the foot of the ridge half encircling the base took less than twenty minutes. The helicopter made one quick stop at a holding area still being formed, where Claudia Nyere was unceremoniously booted off – Literally, Vicente had her dragged to the rear ramp and then boot his boot on her posterior and kicked her off face forward into the dirt, before tossing to the MP on station a brief list of her more obvious crimes.
After that, the chopper cut to port and scaled the slope. There, still keeping low, it made three touchdowns on the exterior slope – exterior to the base – before letting the platoon off, in a great cloud of dust. It made two more touchdowns after that. The last the platoon had seen of it, it was flying low still, skirting around the three-quarter circle of a ridge line before skipping across the waves to the ALTA, there to be refueled and rearmed, rather than drain the small FFAR point ashore. Still more pairs of choppers, raising dust all over the plain, swooped in or outbound, ferrying in more units and more prisoners.
GLS worked here. Checking his map and deciding the chopper had dropped them off to perfection, Vicente directed his platoon up the slope to an assault position currently marked by a brace of Ocelots.
Even as he hustled the boys along, Rodrigues pushing them from the back, he mused, Damned fine looking woman. Maybe if…
From behind, the landing force’s sole artillery battery, eight of the eighty-five millimeter jobs, pounded frantically, the pounding punctuated by brief lulls as they shifted targets. Their shells’ passage overhead was marked by a freight train racket. Another damned good reason for the helicopters to stay low. Mortars, too – and there were a lot more of those, likewise kicked in. The fragmentary order they’d been given by radio had promised a smoke screen to cover their approach down the slope and into the town. He expected it would be damned thin and damnably iffy.