A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 10

A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 10

CHAPTER FOUR

“War is a natural condition of the State, which was organized in order to be an effective instrument of violence on behalf of society. Wars are like deaths, which, while they can be postponed, will come when they will come and cannot be finally avoided.”

–Philip Bobbett,

The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History

Above Landing Zone/Drop Zone Pandion,

Cristobal Province, Balboa

“. . . .three thousand . . . four thousand . . . oompf!”

The opening shock wasn’t bad, actually, as such things go. At least my balls weren’t busted, thought Sergeant Werner Verboom of Thirteenth Company, Royal Haarlem Commandotroepen, as he looked up to check his parachute. That’s sort of the definition of not-bad, at least when we have a fully deployed chute, like this one.

Above, the fourth of the six thundering Hacienda-121 transport aircraft that had brought in Thirteenth Company began disgorging its two dozen jumpers, the men more or less pouring off the load ramp in a human flood. Yes, it was more dangerous to jump that way, but not as dangerous as it would have been to be caught in the aircraft if intelligence had proven wrong and the Balboans able to engage it with something moderately heavy.

Distantly seen and completely unheard, four miles away, another half-dozen of the two-engine, propeller-driven aircraft were in the process of dropping Verboom’s sister company, the Fourteenth, plus battalion headquarters, to LZ / DZ Teratorn.

A smoke pot burned at one end of the drop zone, set up by the pathfinders or maybe the airmobile brigade, as an aid to the reinforcing jumpers. Verboom, floating down from about four hundred and fifty feet up, with a fully deployed parachute, saw the smoke rising. He knew from the twisting of the smoke trail that there were erratic ground winds down below. He could live with that, since the rising of the smoke said they weren’t especially strong winds.

The tracers, however, skipping madly across the drop zone, had come as something of a surprise to the sergeant. Between them, trying–not entirely successfully–to control the oscillation of his parachute, and twisting his head to try to keep eyes on his men, however little good that might do, the beefy non-com was too busy to be afraid. He did take time to release his rucksack to hang on a strap below, then did the same with his weapons case, which slid down the same strap to rest on the rucksack. This cut down on the weight he had to land with even as it tended to stabilize a bit against oscillation. There was more in the weapons case than just his own rifle.

Silly of me to be surprised, really, thought Verboom, drifting down just that much faster than most of the men of the company. I mean, I’ve seen tracers in the day. I’ve seen them lots of times, hundreds of times. Can’t see them from the side, of course, but they’re obvious enough when you’re behind a machine gun firing four by one.

That it may have been silly didn’t stop the sergeant’s lungs from acting like bellows. He wasn’t terrified–nothing like that, of course; the Haarlemer Commandos were, like the Marines and unlike the rest of the Haarlemer Army–quite elite, with perhaps the odd and occasional individual exception. Still, even a very elite body has its own ways of preparing for danger. Among those is stocking up on oxygen.

Verboom didn’t see any tracers as a long flurry of machine-gun fire passed him by. He didn’t think the gunner down below had been aiming for him; the area through which the bullets passed had remained steady as Verboom fell. He suspected that the gunner had simply fired below a paratrooper and waited for his target to descend into his cone of fire. This suspicion was confirmed with a scream, quickly cut short, that arose over the crackcrackcracking of a long burst of machine-gun fire.

The sergeant twisted his head again and saw a limp body, hanging from a chute, toes pointed down and arms swaying low and free. The body wasn’t close enough to see blood, but the way it hung so limp said to the sergeant, Dead. Never saw that before. Never . . .

Never mind. Business first.

With the ground closing fast, Verboom automatically tugged at the toggles to try to face into the wind. His parachute, however, was not really very steerable, no matter what the advertising said. Moreover, the unpredictability of the breeze worked against him. In short, his efforts did him little good. Then again, as he got closer to the ground and the tracers, they tended to occupy more and more of his thoughts.

But I never saw them on a jump before. No one ever thought to have somebody shoot across the drop zone as we came in.

Let’s hope the men take it well, what with not being mentally prepared for it. Of course, hope is not a plan.

And . . . oh, shit . . . left rear . . . ooof.

The commando hit the ground, chin tucked and knees bent, about as well as could be expected. This is to say, he hit a lot harder than he wanted to and a lot more awkwardly that he’d hoped to.

“But any one you can walk away from,” the sergeant muttered, after he took mental inventory of his aches, sprains, and bruises.

Rolling to his back, Verboom slapped the release on his chest, freeing himself from the ‘chute. A bullet cracked loud overhead.

Not all that much overhead, either. They told us this DZ was secure, the lying fucks.

Around him, the rest of the company began to assemble on the woodline to the west, the men sprinting as soon as they doffed their parachute harnesses. Not all sprinted, however; the two commandos, hit while descending, hit the ground like the sacks full of dead meat they were.

What really bothers me here is that these guys were our allies. Surely someone could have found a way to let us and the Balboans get together in peace, love, and harmony to kill somebody else. What else do we pay the bureaucrats of the Tauran Union for, anyway?

Moving toward the rally point, Verboom came upon one of the company’s lesser lights, Private van der Wege, hiding in the low depression, weeping and shivering. Even elite units sometimes acquire the odd shithead.

Reaching down, Verboom grabbed van der Wege by the back of his harness and bodily lifted him to his feet. Then, with a kick and a curse–“Move, you fucking coward!”–Verboom drove the boy bodily forward.

Above Landing Zone / Drop Zone Teratorn,

Cristobal Province, Balboa

Hauptmann Nadja Felton, Sachsen Luftstreitkräfte, turned her Hacienda-121 to the southeast, even as she pulled back on the yoke to bring the plane up to dropping altitude. Behind her, in their turn, five other planes of her squadron followed, one after the other.

Tall, slender, blonde, and with a seriousness that even her bright smile and healthy looks didn’t quite hide, Felton was a recalled reservist. She wasn’t especially happy about the recall, since it involved a massive cut in pay from what she was used to in her normal job, which was piloting for a civilian cargo aviation firm.

As such, Felton was used to flying much bigger and more ungainly aircraft. Unlike those, with the Hacienda she could actually feel the stomping of the cargo as they stood up, hooked up, and shuffled to the ramp.

Not that she was a stranger to the Hacienda, no; she’d flown them during her own military service, a dozen years prior.

And qualified to drop Fallschirmtruppen, too, she self-congratulated. Wish I’d had a couple of more practice runs after they mobilized me, though. Still . . . what I had . . . it should be sufficient. Some things one doesn’t really forget.

And I, at least, am not a slave of the global locating system.

That was a military problem, generally, for the Tauran Union, as it was for any highly technologically advanced state on Terra Nova. It seemed that the legion, being not nearly as dependent on high technology as its foes, had developed a means–or several means; opinions were mixed–to interfere locally with even encoded signals from the satellites that emitted the GLS time stamps. The United Earth Peace Fleet could also send a signal, though it hadn’t, as yet, for this. There was no principled reason anyone could think of for the signal that the UEPF could send to be immune to Balboan sabotage. Hence, no one up above wanted to risk the potential damage to the Peace Fleet’s public image.

Among the reasons Hauptmann Felton–her married name, and married to an Auslaender, at that–had left service before retirement were certain unwise personnel management decisions on the part of the Sachsen defense ministry. Those same decisions had left younger pilots frankly wretchedly trained in comparison to those assessed into the LSK in earlier generations.

All of which explained why Hauptmann Felton, though a reservist, was in the lead bird; she was from the last generation of aviators on Terra Nova that could still do the job without the aid of the GLS.

There was a river below–Ah, there it is–that was Felton’s marker for when to begin the drop. Well . . . the river plus twelve seconds. The drop zone itself was reportedly cleared of the enemy. Which is appreciated. But the reports also made no warranty about the ground within a kilometer of the DZ. Which is distinctly troublesome.

A buzzer in Nadja’s headphones told her she’d reached drop altitude, some two hundred and sixty meters above ground. She leveled off and made a fine adjustment to her heading, to take the troops right down the longest part of the oval drop zone. Normally she’d have offset to allow for wind drift but, in this case, No way to tell, too damned erratic. So, the jumpers are on their own.

Normally, too, she’d have preferred to drop from about one hundred and twenty meters above ground, to limit the airplane’s exposure, as well as that of the men, and also to get them on the ground tight enough for rapid reassembly. She wasn’t quite sure what had nixed that, though it may have been the presumed presence of the helicopter gunships she could see through the window as they patrolled the perimeter of the drop zone.

That’s one downside of the Gauls’ ever-so-clever planning. Yes, the airmobile operation rapidly reinforced with paratroopers may get more combat power on the ground, quicker, than the other way around, but it is not without its–

She sensed rather than saw the blizzard of machine gun fire that arose from the jungle below, as she neared her release point; in full, her Computed Air Release Point, or CARP.

downsides.

Speaking into the boom mike in front of her mouth, Nadja transmitted by radio to the other aircraft that she was slowing to dropping speed, about one hundred and twenty-two knots. She hoped, but had no real confidence, that this might throw off the aim of the enemy gunners below.

The lack of confidence was well founded. The tremors she’d felt from the troops’ movements back in the cargo bay were as nothing to what she felt when a dozen or so machine gun bullets perforated her aircraft. The screaming and shouting coming from the rear told her that not all the damage done had been to unfeeling metal.

God help them, she thought, as she pushed the button for the green light that would send the troops out into the air and down to the battle zone. Wounded men in the back or not, the time span could hardly be measured between her pushing the button and then feeling her plane shudder and balloon; the Haarlem men were springing off the cargo ramp.

With notice of the last jumper gone who could jump, Nadja applied full throttle. Any damage to her plane apparently was not to its engines; it spurted ahead, even as she pulled back on her yoke to bring it above machine-gun range.

 

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