Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 38
Chapter 12 – The Camp
After lunch Allenson toured the encampment accompanied by Colonel Wilson, who had finally shown his face, and various staff officers. Wilson was a nondescript sort of man with white in his hair and moustache. Allenson wondered if the hair was an affectation or whether rejuvenation treatments were failing the man. One could only cheat time for so long despite expensive genosurgery.
The camp did not impress. Tents were planted higgledy piggledy in fields separated by low fences. Men lounged around doing nothing in particular.
“Tell me, Wilson, why do you have such a ridiculously large staff?” Allenson asked, observing the long trail behind.
“Ah well, it’s so that each of the militias has a representative at headquarters,” Wilson replied.
“A representative?” Allenson asked, looking at Wilson as if he had sworn in church.
“That’s right,” Wilson said, defensively, “each group of men have an elected representative to present their views and opinions.”
“Strategy, tactics, when to attack, that sort of thing.”
Allenson looked at the man as if one of them was demented.
“Dear God! Well that ends right now, Colonel Wilson. The “representatives” can stay for today so they can carry my instructions, my orders, back to the militia units.”
“But…,” Wilson began
Allenson spoke over him.
“But… I want the entire edifice disbanded and replaced by a streamlined effective staff. I also want proper chains of field command so we can group units into brigades.”
“But you can’t do that,” Wilson finally got out.
“Why not?” Allenson asked.
“Because each militia is autonomous and…”
“Each militia was autonomous,” Allenson interrupted. “As of now they are units in the Cutter Stream Army and as such are subject to such orders and regulation as I see fit to promulgate.”
A voice interjected.
“I’m not putting up with that.”
Allenson turned to find a small man, pugnaciously sticking out a bearded chin
“And you are?”
“Captain Firkin, Rostray Militia,” said the small man. “We’re not demesne servants to be ordered around by some jumped up Manzanitan aristo. You’ll watch your manners around us, sunshine. We have rights.”
“You will address me as sir, Firkin, and you are quite mistaken. You have no rights at all. You only have duties as laid down by military law.”
Firken turned puce.
“That’s what you think. Push it and I’ll advise my comrades to debate whether we should just go home. I think I can guarantee which way the vote will go.”
A small murmur of approval ran through the other representatives. Wilson nodded but said nothing. Allenson realized that he would get no support from his chief of staff. Ling froze and maintained a blank expression. This was the pivotal moment. If he backed down now then the revolution was over before it had started.
Allenson’s mind raced as he considered and discarded options. Attempts to persuade would be seen as weakness and would invite further liberties. Allowing an outright refusal to obey orders would destroy his authority. He had to enforce his will. He could draw a pistol and threaten the man but when it came to it, the only person he could be sure of was Todd.
Hawthorn chose that moment to emerge from behind a tent.
“Desertion in the face of the enemy is an admission of a capital crime under military law. Should I deal with him now or do you want to go through the formality of a trial before we shoot him, general?” Hawthorn asked casually.
He was dressed in a tailored black uniform with gold piping on the cap and wrists. A badge over his left breast displayed a black shield crossed by red lightning flashes and the initials SP. A dozen men followed him, dressed in combat fatigues of the same color. They had combat helmets with the same insignia.
“This is, ah, Colonel Hawthorn, Head of …,” Allenson said.
“Special Projects,” Hawthorn prompted.
Allenson wondered where Hawthorn got the uniforms. Come to that where had he found the men? Despite the uniforms they didn’t look like soldiers. In fact, they looked more like paramilitary police. They ambled rather than marched and each carried a laser carbine on a sling over the shoulder by their side so the pistol grip was conveniently at hand height.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Krenz,” Hawthorn said, lifting a finger.
The security trooper immediately behind Hawthorn sported sergeant stripes. He barked something and the men lifted their machine pistols. Targeting sights illuminated. Flickering orange dots danced over Firkin’s torso.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Firkin said again, his voice almost a whisper.
Allenson decided it was time he intervened.
“I have yet to find the limits on what Colonel Hawthorn dares and I have known him all my life,” he said.
He raised his voice so that everyone could hear.
“Possibly Firkin misspoke. Possibly he didn’t realize he was subject to military law. Possibly he would like to reconsider his position now that he has been enlightened? Well, Firkin?”
Allenson tilted his head to one side and observed the man as if he did not care much one way or the other. Actually, he did. It would be distasteful and an inauspicious start to his command to have the man killed but give the order he would. To leave the decision to Hawthorn would rightly be seen as gutless by the men. The Army had to know who was in charge. The death of one man now could save a great deal of blood later.
Fortunately Firkin grasped the lifebelt he had been thrown.
“Yes, general, sir, that’s it exactly.”
“Excellent,” Allenson said, heartily. “Your men can stand down, colonel.”
Hawthorn raised the finger again and the orange spots switched off although his troopers kept their hands on the pistol grips.
Wilson gaped, looking as if his world had been turned upside down.
Hawthorn ignored him.
“Krenz, I want two of your men within a meter of General Allenson at all times with two more to provide door security on any room he occupies.”
“Yes, boss,” Krenz replied.
“Yes, sir, you’re in the army now. And they had better be bloody alert because if anything happens to the general, anything at all, then you’re dead meat.”
“Got you, boss, I’ll keep the boys on their toes.”
Krenz glowered at his squad who didn’t seem too worried. They didn’t look at Allenson but at the people around him.
“The lads know to shoot first if they are in any doubt and leave the lawyers to clear up the mess: simpler that way.”
Allenson wondered where Allenson found Krenz. He was definitely neither militia nor regular army that was for sure.
The overwhelming smell of sewage and general human waste reminded Allenson of his next priority.
“Gentlemen, this camp stinks. It’s a bloody disgrace, nothing but a breeding ground for pestilence. Even Riders don’t live like this and they take the precaution of moving on after a few days. Tomorrow morning at dawn the whole camp will move to a new location. Tents will be erected in rows and latrines will be constructed at a safe distance from the living accommodation. They will be inspected by your staff, Colonel Wilson, to ensure they meet the requirements necessary for decent sanitation.”
“You expect my men to oversee the latrines?” Wilson asked.
“Indeed Colonel, furthermore I expect you to lead such inspections to ensure they are carried out properly. In future any man who fouls the camp will be on a charge. No doubt you can invent some suitable punishment, Colonel Hawthorn.”
“Latrines will need to be filled in and new ones dug at regular intervals,” Hawthorn said. “The punishment can fit the crime.”
“I’m damned if I’ll let you turn me and my officers into janitors,” Wilson said, finding his voice. “Who the hell do you think you are, Allenson?”
“I think I’m your superior officer,” said Allenson. “I also think I shall dispense with your services. Thank you for your contribution to defending the ‘Stream. Be assured if we need you again I shall let you know.”
“I don’t understand. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to go home, Sar Wilson, and enjoy a well-earned retirement.”
Wilson visibly shrank under Allenson’s gaze, aging twenty years in a second. Suddenly he didn’t look like a senior officer but a tired old man in borrowed clothes. Allenson felt a complete and utter shit but he hardened his heart. Battle was too unforgiving for misplaced compassion. He had to establish discipline and quickly if the army and the new state were to survive. Wilson offered himself up as a sacrificial lamb – or more properly a scapegoat. The story of how Firkin was brought to heel and the ruthless disposal of Wilson would spread like wildfire through the army.
“Major Ling,” Allenson said
As of now you are chief of staff with the acting rank of colonel.”
“Do you anticipate any difficulty carrying out my orders?”
Allenson nodded. Ling would do.
“But do you understand why we must ruthlessly enforce sanitation?” Allenson asked.
“Well, I suppose we have to look the part of army regulars, sir, but it won’t be easy.” Ling said tentatively.