A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 16

A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 16

“As to how we’re going to do that, sir, let me show you the port as you’ve said, and then let me lead you to the engineer. He’s shown me how.”

“Anglian, right?”

“Yes, sir, but they’re very good engineers, you know. Different from us, yes. Less elegant? Yes, that too. But quite good in their simple minded and inelegant way.”

“What’s all this do to our security requirements?” Janier asked.

“Maybe need a brigade patrolling to the west, sir. Just a brigade. We’d need a lot more if we tried to use the port at Nicuesa, which is maybe eighty kilometers out and completely indefensible at any distance from the port.”

“Fine,” said Janier. “But instead of showing me the port and then bringing me to the engineer, have the engineer meet us at the port.”

“Sir? But all his charts and plans are down below, where I’ve set up the command post.”

“No matter,” said Janier. “With these Anglians you have to show them right away who’s boss or there’ll never be a moment’s peace or cooperation.”

And I say that, even in my newer, kinder, and gentler self, because it’s true. Of course, it’s true of both of us in about equal measure.

Isla Santa Catalina, Mar Furioso, off the coast of Balboa

Somehow, the island exuded a sense of despair that the overwhelming scent of flowers did nothing to dissipate. Why that should be so the Zhong commander, Fleet Admiral Wanyan Liang, didn’t know. But it was so, everyone seemed to feel it. Perhaps it came, subconsciously, from the knowledge that this was a former prison island, reputed to have been an absolute hell.

Maybe, though, thought Wanyan, it’s left over from the whipping we received from their Isla Real.

That whipping had been administered not only by the well-entrenched defenders on the ground, facing Zhong Marines across the surf, but also by a massive hidden park of heavy artillery, previously not even hinted at, firing very long-range laser-guided shells, that had gutted the Zhong fleet. In the wake of it, to save what he could, and to at least try to save face and perhaps even contribute to the war, Wanyan had led the remnants of his fleet, and the two corps of infantry it still carried, to this place, here to establish a base to support a ground invasion of the mainland. That mainland, already being occupied by Wanyan’s two army corps, was only about ten miles away from this island. The locals hadn’t even tried to defend it. The Zhong had also grabbed a smaller, equally undefended, island about fifteen miles to the west, Isla Montijo, for its proximity to a good hard surfaced road on the mainland.

And I don’t understand why these two islands, nor any of the islands, nor the coasts, failed to put up even a symbolic defense. Well . . . there were those few platoons of commandos that went to contest some of the first helicopter insertions, but those hardly even arose to the level of a symbol. Did they expect to utterly destroy us at the big island? If so, I am ever so pleased they failed.

Are they just being sensible, not trying to defend everything? Do they have a different plan, one I am not seeing? I think the former is true . . . but I need to be on guard against the latter. Then, too, they can calculate logistic needs, too, and maybe better than we can, since they can know if they’re going to do something that will drive up our requirements. So maybe they just know already that we can’t do a damned thing except occupy a chunk of their country, and sit there, while feeding those half million refugees they put in our way.

Bastards, Wanyan scowled at the mainland. Ruthless bastards.

Looking out to sea, where engineers and divers in their hundreds and thousands worked, supplemented by impressed laborers–Oh, may as well be honest with myself and call them what they are, namely “slaves”–Wanyan scowled even more deeply. He thought, This better frigging work or the empress is going to have my balls for earrings.

The “this” in question was an ad hoc, emergency, oh, we are so screwed otherwise, plan to support the landing of the still substantial Zhong Expeditionary Force against the Balboan mainland, east of the capital. In other words, “this” was going to be an attempt to create a port, on the fly, ad hoc, where none had been before.

The problem was that there were no ports that mattered in the area. The seas here were too shallow for any ship of any size to even get close to shore. And there were, so reconnaissance insisted, something like half a million civilians in the area, who would have to be fed and cared for. Or the bleeding-heart fucking Taurans will cut off our financial support and air support which, again, leads to my balls dangling from Her Imperial Majesty’s earlobes.

Zhong logistic needs were, on a per capita basis, much less than the needs of Tauran or Federated States forces, but they weren’t nonexistent, nor even trivial. Fuel, parts, food, ammunition, not necessarily in that order? Nine kilograms per man per day was what Wanyan’s chief logistician considered the minimum to be landed. That worked out to sixteen hundred tons per day, minimum.

And even that’s only a guess and only for fuel, parts, ammunition, food, and a small increment for things like medical care. It also doesn’t account for the roughly seven hundred and fifty tons per day of humanitarian supplies for the civilians the Balboans thoughtfully left in the way, nearly none of them in a remotely convenient location.

That was also not much more than mere occupation and survival. And it was also near the beaches over which the supplies would have to come. Inland, demand would go up. They would also go up if there were resistance or sabotage. And that also didn’t include the need to build up a substantial stockpile of ammunition in case the Balboans sortied one or more of their heavy formations at the Zhong lodgment.

It would be much worse if Balboa couldn’t be expected to provide the water on its own. It would be worse if they couldn’t base a fair amount of the effort at sea, where supply wasn’t such a problem. Almost all medical facilities and higher headquarters were going to remain at sea, though the calculation for how much shipping space was best devoted to that, and how much needed to be freed up to continue to ferry in supplies was a complex one.

And I’m not sure we calculated it all that well, either. How could we when we really can’t predict what the enemy will do?

Thank the gods, thought Wanyan, that airships can take up some of the slack, even though I can’t risk them past the islands. Speaking–well, thinking–of which . . .

Wanyan consulted his wristwatch and looked to sea. Pretty much on cue, a brace of heavy cargo lifting airships, on loan, with their crews, from the Tauran Union, appeared on the horizon. The Taurans had lent the Zhong four airships, to supplement Zhong National Airlines, but that really meant about five sorties every week, with Zhong and Tauran both, what with an eighteen-thousand-mile round trip, a speed of about seventy knots, and the need to load and unload, plus downtime for maintenance. The Tauran loaners weren’t of the best or most capable, either.

We’ll be lucky if we can get a thousand tons a week in that way, maybe fifteen hundred if we don’t cube out before we weight out, though that would be unlikely. Helps, sure, but not decisively. Decisive is ships and ports. And the domestic cost of taking our airships out of service isn’t small or, even, long term sustainable.


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