Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 44
“So how are you getting on with your new minders?” Hawthorn asked, easing himself into a chair in Allenson’s office and sinking half a glass of brandy.
Allenson glowered at him.
“Not well, the bastards follow me around like randy youths after a girl with a reputation. I had to physically dissuade some of the more enthusiastic from accompanying me to the bathroom.”
Hawthorn snorted into his drink shooting a fine spray across Allenson’s desk.
“Excellent. I must organize a suitable bonus for Kemp.”
“Pleasurable as it is to offer myself up as the butt for your peculiar sense of humor, was there something else you wanted to discuss?”
“Information!” Hawthorn said succinctly. “I take it you are interested in what is going on in Oxford?”
“Very much,” Allenson replied, refilling Hawthorn’s glass.
“The short answer is not a lot. The Brasilian military have hunkered down and are playing a waiting game. The troopers are getting bored. There have already been one or two incidents. Some of the licentious soldiery caused trouble and one or two local hotheads picked fights in retaliation. The General in charge, one Moffat, is old school. He may not be the shiniest cog in the Brasilian military machine intellect-wise but he does have a grasp of discipline. He hung a few malcontents from both sides and publically flogged others as an example so is keeping a tight lid on things. Shame really, a good insurrection and blood bath might have been useful propaganda.”
“I suppose it might have given us opportunities in the short term but I’m rather glad Moffat is competent to that degree. I don’t want a civilian massacre on my conscience. The key question is whether they have enough supplies to withstand a siege? Oxford must have depended heavily on a continuous supply of fresh agricultural produce from the surrounding farms. I doubt if they had much in the way of sterile long-term food storage.”
Hawthorn shook his head.
“My informants tell me that the city’s on short rations but there’s not much chance of starving them out. They’re getting a constant supply of material from tramp ships running in from nearby worlds and even some of the outlying areas of Trinity. The price of food in Oxford has doubled and some of our dear, patriotic countrymen can’t resist making a fast crown or three.”
“It’s difficult to blockade a port when you have no navy,” Allenson said. “Of course many ship owners support the status quo rather than the rebellion and many others won’t care much one way or the other. After all, business is business.”
Hawthorn tapped his glass.
“We could turn Morton’s men loose on the food supplies and ship owners, I suppose.”
“We could but that might do us more harm than good in the long run,” Allenson replied. “We’ll eventually need those people for our own purposes, if not during the war then certainly after it. In any case the Brasilians could ship supplies in on military transports if necessary.”
“If we lose I suspect we won’t have to worry too much about what comes after,” Hawthorn said with his usual cynical detachment.
“How long have we got before the Brasilians attack?” Allenson asked.
“What makes you think they intend to? My information is that they intend to sit out the siege until we die of boredom, dysentery or old age. There seems to be some debate as to whether we’ll attempt to take the town by storm.”
“Indeed, does the thought bother them?” Allenson asked.
“The junior officers positively salivate at the thought,” Hawthorn replied. “Anything to relieve the tedium. They foresee promotion and honors all round.”
“Not a morale problem then.”
“No so’s you’d notice, no.”
“How about the senior officers, what’s their opinion?” Allenson asked.
“Publicly they seem confident of being able to resist any assault we might mount.”
“Well they would say that, wouldn’t they? I wonder what they really think?”
“I don’t yet have an agent in place who is privy to the command staff’s private discussions. One of my agents is laying the colonel of artillery. He boasts that he had enough multi-barreled laser cannon to weave an impenetrable shield over both port and the town and still have guns left over to sweep both causeways clear of any attackers on foot.”
Allenson’s heart sank. Fond ideas of using Morton’s light mortars to overcome the defenses melted like summer hail.
“I see. Was he exaggerating to impress his girlfriend?”
Hawthorn shrugged again.
“I am going to need some more Brasilian crowns. I’ve spent my own money up to now and I’m running short of ready cash. My agents refuse to accept the Heilbron paper Thalers we pay our troops in.”
“I see your people are not optimistic about our chances,” Allenson said dryly.
He made a note on his pad.
“I’ll make sure you get a plentiful supply of hard currency. Pay yourself back whatever the treasury owes your personal account as well.”
“There was one other point,” Hawthorn said. “A youth in my employ was part of a group hired to entertain naval officers and overheard a rather odd remark.”
“Oh?” Allenson looked up from the pad.
Hawthorn said, “An off-color joke about the size of an officer’s personal weapon involved comparing it to a new über-powerful secret device being developed for the Brasilian Navy. Apparently it’s going to crush us rebel scum.”
“A war winning secret weapon?” Allenson asked, raising both eyebrows. “And how much credence do you put on that information?”
“The same as you: as next to none as makes no difference,” Hawthorn replied with a grin. “But if I start filtering information before you get it then we might miss something important.”
Allenson nodded agreement.
“Historically, that’s always the problem with intelligence. Everyone always gets accurate information about the enemy’s intentions but it’s usually a lone straw hidden in a hayrick of crap. Okay, secret weapon, Brasilian Navy, for the use of. We’ll make a note and file under Doubtful.”
“Only a bloody fool would send troops along that causeway. You might as well line them up and shoot them yourself. Save a lot of time and the result will be the same,” Buller said, jabbing his finger in the direction of Oxford.
Buller might be short changed on many of the qualities needed to make a gentleman but he knew how to conduct a siege. Allenson lay on his stomach in a dugout on the reverse side of the slope overlooking Oxford. He surveyed the town through a scope mounted in a camouflaged port drilled through the crown of the ridge. Buller and Todd squatted behind him.
The Brasilians rigged gun towers to give clear fields of fire over the town buildings onto the open causeways leading to the mainland and the ‘Streamer lines.
“The cannon will have excellent low light sensors. I hope no one is under any illusions that a night attack would be any less of a slaughter,” Buller said.
Allenson assumed that to be the case and hardly needed the obvious pointing out but that never stopped Buller. What the besiegers needed was heavy artillery to smash up and breach the defenses and keep the defenders’ heads down during the assault. Allenson may as well wish for immortality while he was on and a plate of warm muffins.
Heavy artillery tended to be metal based and so was incredibly difficult to transport across the Bight. Perhaps that was fortunate as otherwise the Brasilians would have entire batteries at their disposal. None of the ‘Stream colonies had the industrial base to make their own.
Laser cannon were mostly ceramic and silicon crystal-based devices. They were horribly expensive to manufacture but easy to transport through the continuum, not least because they didn’t require metal ammunition. But their properties caused certain tactical limitations, notably direct line of sight fire restrictions. The ‘Stream Army ideally needed weapons that could be mounted safely in artillery pits. Guns capable of lobbing indirect fire at the enemy.
Many of the old militia regiments had laser cannon which were now coopted into the Army. But Allenson was under no allusion about the end result of a war of attrition between direct-fire laser cannon batteries should he choose to start one. The Brasilians could simply ship in more to replace losses. The colonials couldn’t. They couldn’t manufacture new ones either or even carry out any but the simplest repairs.
“How about the mortars captured by Morton,” Todd said. “We can manufacture mortar shells easily enough. Couldn’t the tubes knock out the gun towers just long enough for our infantry to carry the city by storm?” Todd asked.
“I thought some idiot would suggest that so I have arranged a little demonstration,” Buller replied. “Seeing is believing, so I’m told.”
He tapped the small datapad strapped to his wrist. Artillery crews must have been on standby because the blunt cough of the mortars started up within seconds. The laser cannon in Oxford responded with the same alacrity, no doubt on automatic. The light beams were theoretically invisible unless they were aimed directly at an observer’s eyes, in which case the hypothetical observer would soon need a new head. In practice atmospheric dust and water vapor compromised light coherence such that the laser pulses left streaks of incoherent light across the sky.