Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 40
The trailer contained a number of soldiers, presumably the relieved shift. A man stood at the front of the trailer where he could hold on to the slatted bulkhead. His considerable silhouette seemed familiar so Allenson shaded his eyes for a better look. One of Ling’s aides materialized at his side with a pair of binoculars. Allenson adjusted the fit until a three-dimensional holographic image was focused into his eyes such that the trailer appeared to be just in front of him.
“Ah,” Allenson said. “I see Colonel Buller has arrived. Perhaps we should wait for him.”
The tractor bounced across the field at a respectable lick. Men dropped off the trailer on the move as it went through the camp. It stopped only for Buller to dismount.
“That is Colonel Buller?” Hawthorn asked quietly.
Ling suddenly acquired diplomatic temporary deafness which was a useful attribute in a Chief of Staff. The man was recommending himself for permanent promotion in Allenson’s eyes.
“Allenson, I see you’ve been inspecting the camp. Rather you than me. Place is a bloody cesspit, troops a disgrace.”
Ling winced and several of the militia representatives glowered at Buller.
“You really should call me general, you know,” Allenson said gently.
Buller didn’t do tact. It was a warm day so his jacket was unbuttoned. His shirt was done up one button askew so there was a spare button thrust under his left ear and a spare hole above his belt giving a view of an expansive hairy stomach.
“I’ve been down to have a look at the siege lines. I use the words advisedly because there bloody aren’t any. All I found were a few bunkers and they aren’t even much damn use for observing the city. Most of them are on reverse slopes.”
“We tried siting them more prominently but the Brasilians have lasercannon,” Ling said pointedly. “The bunkers were soon discovered then you could measure their survival time in minutes.”
“You’ve heard of camouflage, I suppose?” Buller asked
“Sometimes we didn’t even finish construction before they were destroyed,” Ling replied.
“For Satan’s sake man, you dig through from the reverse side.” Buller said. “All it needs is work and a modicum of military skill.”
He turned to Allenson.
“There is nothing to stop the Brasilians mounting a sortie any time they damn well please with every expectation of surprising the camp. Can you imagine how a couple of units of Brasilian light infantry would sweep through this rabble?”
Buller waved his arm to encompass the camp, his voice pitched to carry.
“I think you underestimate the resolution and bravery of our soldiers,” Allenson said to forestall a riot. “Nevertheless, you make a valid point. We need containment lines strong enough to hold up any attack until we can reinforce the defenses from the camp.”
Allenson raised his voice to address the entire entourage.
“Colonel Buller is one of the foremost authorities on modern siege tactics. Indeed, I hope I do not embarrass him if I say he probably has more experience of this military art than any man alive.”
“True,” Buller said smugly, clearly not embarrassed at all.
“We would be foolish not to avail ourselves of that knowledge. I propose to put Colonel Buller in command of the siege lines. Arrange with Colonel Ling to co-opt what resources you need, Colonel, but rotate the men as I propose to start intensive training of the reserves here.”
“Excellent, Allenson, nothing wrong with an amateur gentleman figure-heading the operation when he knows when to hand over to the professionals. I’ll make out a list for Ling.”
Buller stomped off.
“At least down at the siege lines the damn man’ll be out of our hair,” Ling said to one of his aides.
Allenson ignored the remark. Knowing when to be afflicted with temporary deafness was one of the virtues good generals shared with good chiefs of staff.
The next day Allenson’s pad relayed a message from Ling asking for a meeting in the engineering workshops. Ling being Ling, there was a map added giving direction. Allenson walked through Cambridge on his own so he could collect his thoughts. Alone of course, meant being closely trailed by two of Kemp’s goons. By now he regarded them as part of the woodwork. The road was quiet not even his boots making much in the way of noise on the partly stabilized mud surface.
Small creatures in the undergrowth called to each other with mournful whoop noises. He didn’t know enough about the fauna of Trinity to know whether these were alarm calls notifying others of his presence or mating cries. For all he knew they just made noises for the fun of it? He made a mental note to discuss the matter with Destry next time he saw him. Then he remembered Destry was gone.
While he walked, he thought through the situation. It seemed to him that they were at stalemate with the Brasilians. Oxford’s location had been chosen by the original colonists partly because of its defensive possibilities. The ‘Stream Army was now paying the price for the stupidity of the Trinity mob. They had done just enough to arouse the Brasilians without doing enough to secure the city.
The Brasilians acquired Oxford on the cheap. It would be the devil’s own job to dislodge them now they were dug in. The question was who benefitted from a stalemate? He told the Assembly that the colonies did not have to win the war but merely had to survive to achieve independence. Now he was beginning to wonder whether that was entirely true.
He worried that he may have misjudged matters. He tried to see the situation from a Brasilian perspective. They might be entirely satisfied with hanging on to a few key cities like Oxford and Port Trent while ignoring the rebellion until it fizzled out through logistical decay and exhaustion. That way Brasilia could claim victory in so far as was required for Homeworld propaganda. But they avoided the cost of a long distance war of attrition for territory that they undoubtedly regarded as next to useless. After all, they lost interest in the Hinterlands after the last war the moment the Terrans had been evicted.
The city ports would also be springboards for any future campaigns should political events make further Brasilian intervention necessary. Dammit, that’s what Allenson would do if he were the Brasilian commander. Grab the ports while the grabbing was good and ignore the rest. It was a moot point who was besieging whom at Oxford. Allenson had read enough military history to know that sometimes the besiegers “starved” before the besieged.
His pad beeped letting him know he had arrived. He extracted himself from his thoughts with an almost physical effort. The army’s engineers were based in a requisitioned college of technology. Ling was waiting for him at the entrance.
“If you’d like to come through, sir, Major Kiesche has a demonstration arranged”, Ling said, mysteriously.
Ling, Allenson, his bodyguards and a small tail of mechanics snaked through corridors. They went down a flight of narrow stairs and into a scullery with a stone floor that rang under their military boots. A door opened into a yard.
Kiesche stood proudly by a pile of equipment that looked like a miscellaneous heap of plumbing. It resembled a modernist sculpture bolted together by an avant-garde artist abusing some pretty potent mind expanding substances.
“I know it looks a bit like an exploded diagram of a ruminant’s gut structure,” Kiesche said.
“Yes,” Allenson replied, firmly suppressing that vision.
“But it’s a hydraulic pump that I’ve stripped out of a canal lock gate and converted into a ram.”
“I see,” Allenson said, patiently. “And why would you want to do that?”
“To make artillery, sir, to supplement our lasercannon.”
Allenson must have still looked blank because Kiesche elucidated further.
“Like battleship guns, general.”
The penny dropped. Heavy naval assets employed hydraulic-power rams to throw ceramic kinetic projectiles out through their fields into the Continuum. These weren’t the most powerful weapons in existence but they generated little heat or toxic fumes compared to rail guns or explosive weapons.
Kiesche said helpfully, “The power and recycle speed of a naval cannon depends on the pumping rate. Almost any pump will do for any sized gun within reason if you can wait long enough between shots.”
Allenson looked at the man wondering what to say. No one in their right mind would use hydraulic cannon if there was anything else available. Continuum combat was a very special case. However, he didn’t want to insult the engineer or curb his enthusiasm so he replied non-committedly.
Kiesche insisted on demonstrating his spaghetti-weapon. It lobbed a ceramic bolt a surprisingly long way but the chamber took forever to repressure. Kiesche tried to speed it up but something inside broke. It sprayed the engineer with oil as he struggled to stem the leak.
Allenson retreated to a safe distance as he only had one decent dress uniform and he was wearing it.
“Perhaps it needs a little more work, Kiesche.”
“Yes, sir,” Kiesche said, a little crestfallen.
“Keep up the good work,” Allenson added.