A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 20

A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 20

“There’s one other thing,” Asilos said, hesitantly. Her fingers began hunting for a written message, even as she relayed the gist of the thing. “The chief medico over at Tecumseh has asked permission to put some of the worst wounded out of their misery. He says he’s running low on painkillers, and leaving them screaming will undermine morale in the other wounded badly enough to be life threatening.

“Sir, I’ve checked with the chief surgeon here,” Sarita added. “We’ve got plenty of painkillers, if we could get it over to them. It would be suicide but I also checked on that. Every medic in the corps medical regiment volunteered to try. Every one.”

“You’re a treasure, Sarita,” said the legate, which added about a zillion percent to the woman’s morale. “So are the medics. Let me mull that a bit, though. Tell the doctor over at Tecumseh I said, ‘Not just no, but hell no.'”

Still mulling, Jimenez walked off to check on his artillery. Halfway there he changed direction, walking briskly to his intelligence section’s desk.

“Do we have a frequency we can use to communicate with the enemy? In the plain, I mean, since our encryption gear and his aren’t compatible.”

The senior tribune manning that post answered, “Legate, we could get a message through if we had to–a couple of their logistic units seem to be having trouble with their frequency hopping system and have reverted to speaking in the plain–but do we want to? We’re getting some good info through that leak; I’d hate to waste it for nothing. And using it to communicate might do just that.”

“Yeah,” Jimenez agreed, “No ‘might’ about it. It would. Okay, so do we have another route?”

“Well,” the tribune spoke hesitatingly, “there’s their chaplain nets, sir.”

“Huh?”

“They’ve got radios, too, but never seem to have been given encryption gear. We haven’t got a lot of intelligence that way, yet, but we will once units settle down for the longer haul.”

“Any advantage to chaplains and not log?” Jimenez asked. Intelligence wasn’t, after all, his specialty.

“They could fix log easily,” the intel tribune answered, “if they found out about the leaks. It’s only a couple of stations, after all. But there are scores of chaplains floating around, maybe as many as a hundred and fifty or so, most of which we’ve been able to identify by name, rank, and nationality, by this point. It would be harder for the Taurans to fix, and probably couldn’t be fixed quickly without creating much worse leaks.”

“Couldn’t they just clip their chaplains’ wings?” Jimenez asked.

“I sense their chaplaincy has more political pull than that,” said the tribune. “To my mind, that’s the only thing that explains why the largely–actually, almost entirely–atheist Tauran Union ruling class still funds a chaplaincy.”

“Okay,” Jimenez said, “I need the name and call sign of the senior Gallic chaplain, and a frequency to get ahold of him.”

“Why a Gaul, sir?”

“Because, in effect, they’re running the show?”

“Well . . . yeah, but what is it you want to do, sir?”

Jimenez thought about it, turning an instinct into something resembling a plan. He said, “I want a very local, very temporary truce. I want to send a small flotilla of rubber boats over to Tecumseh with medical supplies, and evacuate some of the worst wounded from there to here, where they can get better treatment. I want to do it plainly and openly, and I don’t want them shot up, either coming or going.”

The tribune shook his head slightly, answering, “Oh. Then you wouldn’t want the senior Gallic chaplain, sir, you would want the Anglian. They’re the bastards that have been giving Tecumseh such a hard time, the same bastards who cut the road and can see into the bay.

“Moreover, sir, while we aren’t getting much from the enemy chaplaincy now, that leaky chaplain’s net still might pay big dividends later on. I’d rather we left it alone.”

“Well, how do we–how do I–contact them?”

The tribune thought for a moment, then suggested, “International maritime or aviation distress channel, might work, sir. Worth a shot, rather than compromising a source. That, or maybe we could dial every landline number in the area we know the Anglians have overrun. Some of the lines might still be up. Or we could try to jump into their satellite communications ability, though I’d rather not let them know we can do that.”

“I want to keep it low key,” said Jimenez. “Try landline first. And let me talk to them, personally.”

“Do you speak English, sir?”

“Yes,” Jimenez said, “and pretty well, actually.”

“Okay, sir. This has some intel value, too, so give me a couple of hours . . . or maybe until dawn, if you can. Oh, and I’ll get our corps chaplain to intercede, too. I’ll set it up.”

“No more than a couple of hours,” Jimenez insisted. “We have friends and brothers in pain over there.”

South of the Parilla Line, Balboa

Sais clapped a hand across his soldier’s mouth, then whispered, “Get up, Espinal; it’s time.”

The boy’s eyes fluttered open, unseen and unseeing. At the jungle floor’s starless and moonless night, even the whites of the boy’s eyes were invisible. He nodded, to let Sais know he was awake and unlikely to shout anything out. Once the sergeant had removed his muffling hand, Espinal softly said, “I’m ready, Sergeant.”

***

The pair travelled light, carrying only their rifles, a red-filtered flashlight to signal to the friendlies to the north, if that ever became practical, a set of night vision goggles with some spare batteries, and a canteen each. Everything else was left behind, covered by some brush, some dirt, and a bit of the rotting tree trunk. The Taurans would find the packs eventually, but Sais had made sure while it was still approximately light out that nothing was left in them that would be of any intelligence value.

In the impenetrable gloom, and because of that gloom, Sais had tied a strong but light cord between them. It was a course of action not normally used but, in this case, he thought it was wise.

Even through the canopy overhead, a flash of lightning was visible. The crack of the lightning was muffled by the vegetation, but the flash was followed almost immediately by the sound of heavy rain falling on the leaves and branches above. That grew in seconds to a crescendo.

Sais breathed a sigh of relief. Not only would the rain drive the Taurans to shelter, even if it was only the shelter of putting on their headgear and mentally retreating under the brims, but the racket would cover their footsteps and then some.

Now we can move, by God or, rather, we can once the rain gets through. In the interim, though . . .

He held up a fist by sheer force of habit; but Espinal couldn’t see it. Hell, without his goggles Sais couldn’t have seen it either. Espinal bumped into his sergeant from behind, and came to a stop.

Sais turned around and whispered, “For now, it’s just sound. In about fifteen or twenty minutes, though, the rain will get through the canopy. Then the Taurans are going to go half catatonic. That’s when we’ll move.”

“Roger, Sergeant.”

Feeling the first drop hit his soft, brimmed cap, Sais thought, About time. First time I’ve ever wanted the rain to come down, I think. The drop quickly became a deluge, as the leaves and branches above began to shed their excess water. It came down cold, causing the sergeant to shiver for a moment.

Once satisfied that the rain getting through was heavy enough to have the desired effects, Sais gave a double tug to the connecting cord and took off at a quick pace. Got to make hay while the sun shines. Got to take advantage of the downpour while it lasts.

Not unexpectedly, the spray of the falling drops began to cover the lens of the goggles, making them worse than useless. Sais persisted for a while, but after coming close to a heart attack when the distortion caused a hanging vine to look like a snake, and with a silent curse, Sais stopped and took them off his face. He left the goggles to hang from his neck by the head straps. Blinking against the purple haze the green light of the goggles brought about in human eyes, he rotated his vision around, trying to cut the time until he could hope to see something again. Again, Espinal bumped into him from behind.

“Sergeant?”

“Never mind, it’s going to be a little slower going than I’d hoped.”

 

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