THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION – snippet 19:
Chapter 9. The Bomb
“Bombs away!” shouted Lannie. Way too soon, in Denise’s judgment.
Fortunately, Keenan objected. “Hey, make up your mind! You said only one—”
“Drop it!” Denise hollered, when she gauged the time was right. Lannie might have buck fever, but she didn’t. Not with Buster for a dad, teaching her to hunt.
“It’s off!” said Keenan.
By now, the plane had swept by, over the wagon and the two enemy cavalrymen guarding it.
Well, one cavalryman, anyway. The other one might have been a civilian. They’d been moving too fast for Denise to get a good look at them.
Lannie brought the plane around. As soon as they could see the effect of the bomb, he shouted gleefully. “Yeeeeee-haaaaaaaaaaa! Dead nuts, guys!”
Sure enough, the wagon had been hit by the bomb. If not directly, close enough. Denise wasn’t sure, from the quick glimpse she’d gotten as they went over it, but she thought the wagon had already been busted. It had seemed to be tilted over to one side, as if a wheel or an axle had broken, and she thought some of its cargo was on the ground.
Now, though, it was in pieces. And something was burning.
One of the cavalrymen was down, too. His horse was thrashing on the ground, and the rider was lying nearby. Dead, wounded, unconscious, it was impossible to tell. The other cavalryman—well, maybe cavalryman—was dismounting to tend to his partner.
Denise frowned. There was something about the way that second cavalryman moved….
“Fly back around,” she commanded.
Keenan, even from his poor vantage point in the cramped bombadier’s seat in the back, with its little windows, had been able to see the results too. “Jeez, Denise. I don’t know as we gotta be bloodthirsty about this.”
“Fly back around!” she snapped. “I just want to get a better look. And slow down, Lannie.”
“Don’t want to stall it out,” he warned.
“Yeah, fine. So don’t stall it out. Slow down and get lower.”
“Backseat driver,” he muttered. But he did as commanded.
“Wait,” said Janos, holding out a hand. They were now sheltered beneath a large tree, not more than two hundred yards from what was left of the wagon. As soon as Janos had spotted the plane, he’d led them under the branches. Hopefully, they’d be out of sight.
“What a piece of luck,” said Gage. “They bombed their own people.”
Janos wasn’t surprised, really. He knew from experience how easy it was for soldiers to kill and wound their own, in combat. In some battles, in bad weather or rough terrain, as many as a third of the casualties were caused by the soldiers’ own comrades.
He’d never thought about it before, but he could see where that danger would be even worse with aircraft involved. At the speed and height it had maintained when it carried out the attack, the plane’s operators couldn’t have seen any details of their “enemy.”
“What should be we do?” asked Gardiner.
“Wait,” Janos repeated. “The plane is coming back around. It we move out from under the tree, they might spot us.”
That was the obvious reason not to move, and he left it at that. Still more, he wanted to see what would happen next.
Gardiner put up a mild objection. “That bomb was loud, when it went off. The garrison might come to investigate.”
His tone was doubtful, though. Janos thought there was hardly any chance the explosion would alert the soldiers at Hof. Hof was miles away and while the sound might have carried the distance, it would have been indistinct. Thunder, perhaps. Of course, if the USE warplane kept dropping bombs, the situation would probably change. People would investigate an ongoing disturbance, where they would usually shrug off a single instance.
But Janos knew the plane couldn’t be carrying very many bombs. By now, months after the Baltic War, Austria had very good intelligence on the capabilities of the up-time aircraft, and Janos had read all of the reports. Even the best of the enemy’s warplanes, the one they called the “Gustav,” was severely limited in its ordnance.
And this was no Gustav. Janos had seen one of them, on the ground at the Grantville airfield. Nor was it one of the other type of warplane, the one they called the “Belle.” He’d seen those on several occasions, both on the ground and in the air.
Drugeth didn’t know which type of airplane this was, but it couldn’t have capabilities that were any better. In fact, if he was right in his guess about the object he could see under the craft’s body, it had only had two bombs to begin with. He’d seen the bomb they’d dropped, although he hadn’t spotted where it came from. But he was pretty sure it must have been the companion of the object he could see now.
As they came over the wagon again, moving as slowly as Lannie dared, they weren’t going any faster than a car breaking the speed limit on an interstate highway. And Lannie had the plane not more than forty feet off the ground.
So, since he also obeyed Denise when she told him to fly on the side where she could see what was happening, she got a very good look at the second cavalryman when he looked up as they passed by. Glaring in fury and shaking his fist at them.
Except it wasn’t a cavalryman and it wasn’t a he.
“Jesus H. Christ!” Denise exploded. “We just bombed Noelle and Eddie!”
“Huh?” said Lannie, his mouth gaping.
“Well, shit!” screeched Keenan from the back. “Well, shit!”
“I’ll kill ‘em,” Noelle hissed, as she went back to tending Eddie. Luckily—by now, she’d unfastened the cuirass—he didn’t seem to have been wounded by the bomb itself or any of the splinters it had sent flying from the wagon when it exploded. At least, she couldn’t see any blood anywhere, that she thought was any of Eddie’s own. He did have some blood on one of his trouser legs, but she was pretty sure that came from his horse. One of the splinters or maybe a part of the bomb casing had torn a huge wound in the horse’s belly. It had thrown Eddie when it fell to the ground. Kicked him in the head, too, in the course of thrashing about afterward, judging from the condition of his helmet.
At least, she didn’t think that big a dent in a sturdy helmet could have been caused by his fall. The meadow had hardly any rocks in it.
Eddie’s eyes were open, but he seemed dazed. Might have a concussion. And a broken left arm, from the looks of things.
Gingerly, she started unfastening his sleeve. Eddie moaned a little, but she got it peeled back enough to check its condition.
A broken forearm, sure enough. Noelle had broken her own forearm as a kid, falling out a tree. She could remember insisting to her mother all the way to the hospital that the arm wasn’t really broken. Just bent a little, that’s all.
But it wasn’t a compound fracture, and the break was obviously well below the elbow. Give it a few weeks, properly splinted, and it would heal as good as new.
The relief allowed her fury to resurge. She looked up again, tracking the plane from its sound, so she could shake her fist at them again. The stupid bastards!
But when she spotted the plane, the gesture turned into a frantic wave.
“You stupid bastards! Watch out!”