A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 07

A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 07

CHAPTER THREE

“All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill.'”

–Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

IV Corps Headquarters, Magdalena, Cristobal Province, Balboa

The irregular crump-crump-crumb of bombs–filtering through the earth and then to and through the thick-walled concrete shelter–was frequent enough now that nobody really paid it much mind. The people in the shelter knew, too, that they’d never hear the one that came for them, so why worry about it? They went about their chores and duties, thus, with fairly light hearts . . . or, at least, they were able to put on a good enough show of it, even though, however carefully they hid it, they did worry.

Fourth Corps was something of an ethnic mishmash. In and around the city of Cristobal, the bulk of the populace was more or less black; “more or less” because, after centuries of crossbreeding on Old Earth, followed by more centuries of crossbreeding on Terra Nova, nobody was pure. The most that could really be said was that someone tended black or white or brown or yellow or red. Thus, for example, Legate Arocha, Jimenez’s Ia, or operations officer, was black, like Jimenez, himself. Conversely, his Ic, or Intelligence Officer, was almost pale and bore the surname of Standish, even though almost no one in the area with an English-sounding name was white.

The two glared across the map at each other.

Other armies used most advanced computers for this, but Balboa not only didn’t have money to waste on such luxuries, it had an active prejudice against anything that could be hacked. As such, Jimenez’s operations and intelligence staff plotted known and suspected enemy positions on a huge map, set up on moveable tables at the center of the ops room. Those positions looked like a series of spreading stains on the map. Some of them already leaked tendrils toward each other. In places, the stains had merged into ominous blobs.

The corps logistician, the Ib, black and named Harris, didn’t plot anything, but took notes for places and units of the IVth Corps he thought might need a tad of logistic succor, as well as trying to pierce the enemy’s logistic plan, the knowledge of which would be the surest possible guide to his intentions. That was one of the reasons for the staff arrangements in the legions, actually, with operations, logistics, and intel all in the same section, that intelligence types were not usually as good at analyzing logistics as logisticians were, while nothing was quite as good a predictor of enemy actions as were logistic realities.

The Ia, Arocha, looked at a several recent plots on the map, then announced in a loud voice, “It’s not fucking possible; somebody’s full of shit.” His accusing glare was directed at the intelligence officer.

“What’s not possible?” asked Jimenez.

“Sir,” said Intelligence, “Operations has a point. We know what the Taurans had for airborne forces. We know–we know beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt–that we destroyed two of the four brigades they had, the Gauls’ and the Anglians’. We are certain that the defection of Colonel Muñoz-Infantes is keeping Castile, which has one of the two remaining brigades, out of the war in any serious way. I am seeing, we are seeing, impossible numbers of paratroopers, coming into the airheads established by their helicopter-borne troops. I can’t tell you where they’re coming from. They ought not exist, not in the numbers we’re seeing.”

“Show me,” ordered Jimenez.

The Ic grabbed a wooden pointer from an underling. Moving it from east to west, tapping the map as he went, he explained, “The Tauran paras all came in on airheads previously grabbed by airmobile forces. They are reinforcing by parachute, not doing parachute assaults.”

“That’s a lot safer,” Jimenez observed.

“Yes, sir,” Standish agreed. “Also, much more reliable, certain, practical . . . sir, we need to adjust our opinion of Tauran arms upward . . . way the fuck upward.

“Reports are that the Sachsens–they have a very distinctive field uniform so we are quite certain who they are–came in here”–the pointer went tap–“and here”–tap; the taps indicating drop zones northeast of Cristobal and northwest of Puerto Lindo.

“That’s all perfectly understandable,” the Ic continued, “Sachsens reinforcing the perimeter and supporting the marine forces while the latter clear their beachheads. It’s working for them, too.”

Jimenez scowled but then said, “I follow so far. Continue.”

The pointer went tap, tap, tap across the map in rapid succession. “But we are seeing more than that. Each of those places has something like a brigade or a short brigade landed or landing. That’s not counting the reports of smaller teams coming in outside the area of their major drops.

“There seems to be a brigade of Gauls, another of Anglians, and a mixed group of I don’t know what, but they’re probably Tuscans, Haarlemers, and maybe Leopolders. They might be Hordalanders and Cimbrians in there, too, since the Cimbrians have two companies, and only one is in Santa Josefina.

“That last group is predictable but . . . well, sir . . . where did the Anglians and Gauls come up with more?”

“I don’t know how they did,” Jimenez said, “but I can tell you how I would have. I’d have called up reservists, especially if I had a formed unit. I’d have used my special operations people as cadres for new battalions. And I’d have raped the school system as completely as possible for more cadres. In all, if you tally it up, that may account for both the Anglians and the Gauls’ newfound airborne capability.

“We may find, too, if we ever manage to get a prisoner, that for some of those jumpers it’s their first jump.

“Note, too, gentlemen, that we didn’t, in principle, do anything much different in using the training brigade cadres to form forty-sixth through fifty-first tercios.

Standish still looked a little skeptical. “Yes, sir . . . maybe, sir, but we didn’t use any of those to parachute into a hot drop zone, either.”

“Is it working for them?” Jimenez asked.

“Well . . . yes, sir.”

“If it looks stupid but works then it isn’t stupid.”

“All right, sir,” Standish agreed. “But I can’t help but wonder why Fernandez’s organization didn’t warn us of this. It’s his job, after all. But, yeah, sure; we’ll assume that those paras are not figments of our imagination, but were reconstituted somehow.” Grimly, the operations officer nodded agreement.

“Do that,” Jimenez said, “and make a mental note that, as they’re reconstituted, which is to say, kind of new, those formations may also be kind of fragile . . . .hmmm . . . speaking of which . . .”

Jimenez turned away and walked to the artillery desk, where his chief of artillery, Legate Arosamena, looked ready to weep. Arosamena had once been acting chief of staff for the entire Legion. Fired by Carrera for incompetence in that role, Jimenez had taken him on as, first, an artillery tercio commander, and later as chief of IVth Corps Artillery.

 

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