The Savior – Snippet 03
“Yes, sir,” Messerschmidt replied. “I’ll see they behave like Goldies.” Without another word, the corporal made his way through the barley back toward camp.
“Let’s go,” said Abel. “I’ll take point since I know where we’re going.”
The three sentries got into position quickly.
Abel swung his rifle back around his shoulder and drew his blunderbuss pistol. He trotted forward, the sentries trailing after him. This would also leave a trampled path in the barley as a path for the remainder of the platoon.
Analysis of aerodynamic sonic signatures indicates an attacking group of six to eight armed men, said Center.
They concentrated their fire, too, Raj put in. Shows organization. There’ll be command among them.
Concur, Center said. Behavior indicates a trained unit.
They’ll mow us down if we try to take them head-on. Better to flank them, Abel thought.
Aye, agreed Raj.
Incoming. Center broke in without inflection of alarm — or any emotion at all.
“Down!” Abel called to the sentry nearest himself in a harsh whisper. The sentry passed the word along and then complied with the order.
But the invisible clouds of bolts were not aimed at them.
Another flurry passed over their heads. Mercifully, there was no round of screams to follow it.
Wildfire at shadows. They can’t be that well trained, Abel thought. But we are. And Messerschmidt must have the platoon advancing low to the ground. Good.
Abel waited a moment more to be sure that there was no second wave of fire intended for suckers, then rose up and moved forward another hundred paces. They were nearing the base of the small rise. He signaled to the man behind him to break to the left. They cut diagonally toward the side of the rocky hillock and trotted another hundred paces.
Grouped fire to the right, Center announced. Well away from our position, however.
They hear the platoon out there. They don’t know we’re close, Abel thought.
The ground sloped upward and the barley thinned. The soil underfoot became rocky.
There is a natural alluvial rise beneath the rocky exterior in this place. The hillock is otherwise of human origin from field clearing, Center put in. Differential soil composition and weathering patterns puts the rise at approximately 10,250 Duisberg years old.
Okay, Abel thought. Thanks for that. I don’t know how you figured it out but —
I am able to make use of the contrast ratio between the cones and the rods in your eyes — light receptors — to make analytical calculations for the chemical compositions of the pebbles underfoot. It is a process similar to x-ray spectrum analysis used in physical chemistry —
— but we have no time for this now, Abel thought. The one emotion, the one seemingly not entirely rational drive that Center possessed was an eagerness to share any and all information he had at any given moment. Abel supposed he couldn’t blame Center. Information was, after all, Center’s primary function and — if he could believe what he’d been told — Center’s very being. To expect Center to know when to shut up was like expecting a carnadon to know when it had eaten enough dakflesh.
They came out of the barley and walked on loose stone. Abel moved his extended palm up and down in a wigwag signal for those behind him to tread as quietly as possible. The sentry behind him passed the order back. They climbed the hill for about twenty paces, and then Abel cut diagonally to his right. He called a halt and motioned for a weapons check. On more than one occasion in the Scouts, he had failed to put in a priming cap, or even to load his weapon, and might have gone into a firefight essentially unarmed had it not been for his captain reminding him to double-check. He thumbed back the hammer on his own pistol and was reassured to see the gleam of the cap on its fire nipple.
He made a quick check and saw from moonlight glint that all the rifles had their bayonets fixed.
“Hammers back. But quiet,” he whispered.
Abel cocked the hammer slowly. The others did likewise with their rifles. Rifled barrels or no, these were single shot muzzle-loaded muskets. The first shots had to count. Even for Goldies, with their legendary thirty blink reloads, getting off a second shot during a charge was unlikely.
That was what the bayonets were for.
Abel led the sentries forward at a trot.
They came upon the group of ambushers from slightly behind the position of the attackers on the hill. When his group was ten or fifteen paces away, Abel signaled a halt. He motioned the sentries to move out of their staggered line and form up beside him. When the sentries had come up, the four of them stood and watched for a moment. The moonlight outlined the shapes of the attackers nicely. Several of the men were cranking their crossbows back. Another of them was standing slightly behind the group, his hands on his hips.
There’s the captain, Raj said.
Abel raised his pistol and drew a bead on the man. He knew when he fired he would be temporarily blinded by the flash. He might try closing his eyes, of course, but these weapons were hard enough to aim in daylight with eyes wide open and a steady hand. He would have to count on the flash having the same effect on his enemies as it did on his men and himself.
“Fire!” This time it was not a harsh whisper, but a shouted command. Abel pulled the trigger on his pistol. Its bang was followed by the crackle of the other three muskets.
The man with his hands on his hips crumpled to the ground. Two of the other silhouetted attackers did so as well. This was all he could make out until his pupils widened again.
Three out of four shots on target, Abel thought. Not bad. But his men were Guardians, after all. You had to be able to shoot straight just to gain admittance.
Abel tucked his pistol, still hot in the barrel, back into his belt. He momentarily considered swinging his rifle around and taking another shot, but instead drew his sword.
“Ready,” he said.
The sentries lowered their rifles to hip height, bayonets thrust forward and gleaming in the moonlight.
With Abel in the lead, they rushed upon the remaining attackers at a downhill trot.
Abel detected a moonlit glint to his left. It was a line of muskets leaning against man-sized stone upslope from him.
They piled their rifles to the side while they got the crossbows ready. Too much equipment at one time would slow them down. And where are their donts?
Hidden around the back of the hill, Center said.
Abel quickly placed himself between the attackers and their muskets. The sentries rushed in. The nearest attacker turned at the sound of crunching sandals on gravel — and took a bayonet to the stomach.
A man without a crossbow saw the onrushing sentries and cried out. “Arbalests right! No, to the right, thrice-damn you!” Abel thought he detected a Progar accent. The attempted re-aiming move was too quick. The bowmen were confused. Bow met bow with a clink, and some of the attackers dropped their weapons or got them tangled up with another’s.
Metallic clinks instead of the clatter of wooden stocks.
The moonlight played upon the weapons.
Bronze and iron, Abel thought. They’re made of metal, except for the stock. Which meant the crossbows were outlawed by edict. They were nishterlaub, material used in a heretical manner as set down by the Law of Zentrum.
Metal crossbows may as well have been blasphemy.
Even though he understood what Zentrum truly was — an A.I. akin to Center — and knew that the Laws and Edicts of the Land were meant to suppress innovation and maintain an everlasting stasis, Abel couldn’t help feeling the crawling sensation in his gut that the sight of nishterlaub evoked.
It had been pounded into him in a thousand Thursday school lessons, after all. Except for permitted weapons, it was forbidden to use metals in combination or for purposes beyond cook pots and knives. To do so was horrible. It was wrong. All technological artifacts must be used in a downgraded manner.
“Nay, nay, forget it, forget it. To the donts,” called out the one who had before given the order to turn. “Fall back, you chunks of puke, fall back!”
Definitely Progar — and rural at that.
The attackers turned to run. There were perhaps ten of them still standing. And behind them —
The rest of the Friday Company platoon rose up out of the barley. The click of fifteen muskets cocking froze the attackers in their tracks. Before they could think or move, Abel rushed forward. He grabbed the man who had called out orders and clotted him with the exposed hilt of his sword. The attacker fells to his knees, blood streaming down his face.
“Surrender,” Abel called out. “Or die where you stand!”
Slowly, the other men lowered their crossbows. There was something like a collective sigh of resignation that passed among them.
“Mercy,” said the man at Abel’s feet. “For the love of Zentrum, mercy.”
He spoke with the thick accent of a man of Progar.
Abel shook his head grimly. Mercy? That was the last thing the man was going to get.