A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 22

A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 22

“Huh? What? Was I thinking aloud again?”

“You must have been, sir. And you were right, sir, it is working. Though I confess, I have no idea about Her Imperial Majesty’s reproductive organs, nor of any alleged aroma thereto. I’m afraid I’ll have to take your word on that matter, sir.”

“Well,” said Wanyan, “I heard it from . . . oh, never mind.” The admiral glared at Ma Chu through narrowed eyes. “Say, are you trying to get me an appointment with the Juntong?”

At the name Ma Chu blanched. The Juntong was one of three branches of the Imperial Secret Police, all of which had overlapping jurisdictions, hence all of which unreservedly hated each other, and all of which were above the law as well as totally ruthless.

Ma said, with more calm than he felt, “Hardly, Admiral, since they’d eviscerate me on general principle even were I not your aide de camp.”

“True enough,” said Wanyan, mollified. He turned and signaled for his driver to pick up himself and the lieutenant colonel. Since the admiral’s own vehicle had been landed, Ma Chu had not had to hump a radio around continuously.

“The engineers say they’re ready to blow the last trench, Admiral,” announced he driver. Unlike the aide de camp, the driver was a navy man, and enlisted.

“Tell me that, at this point, they’re not still waiting for my order,” said Wanyan.

The driver shook his head, emphatically. “Oh, no, Admiral, they just thought you might want to watch.”

“Nah, I trust them. Well . . .”

“Yes, sir, they said they’ve accounted for all the drivers and workers.”

“Okay, then.” After Ma swung into the back seat, and he’d taken his own, Wanyan directed the driver, “Take me to the southern shore.” Sirens began to sound loudly as people rushed either to shelter or to a good vantage point for the show, however the spirit moved them. To the north, behind Wanyan’s party, unseen–for the briefest nonce unheard, too–a band of water half a mile long and a couple of hundred feet wide seemed suddenly to come to a boil.

That had been practiced enough, nineteen times in the last ten days, that Wanyan didn’t worry overmuch about it. He was more concerned that the suction dredger he’d asked for might not make it to the island to keep the undersea canal they’d blasted through the silt open. He was much more concerned with air drop–the first of its kind, here–arranged with the Tauran Union for some heavy equipment needed on the Isla Santa Catalina that it was still some ways from being able to unload. The actual coordination for the drop hadn’t been too hard, taking little more than a request to the Empress, her to the High Admiral, and the High Admiral to Wanyan’s opposite number, Janier. It had still taken over a week after that to get the equipment off loaded at Puerto Bruselas, moved to Julio AsunciĆ³n Airport, near the Santa Josefinan capital of Aserri, and prepared for a drop.

Puerto Bruselas, Santa Josefina

Hauptmann Nadja Felton glanced down at the port as she veered to starboard, to assume her course for the island of Santa Catalina, nominally Balboan but currently under Zhong occupation. She’d known, at a purely intellectual level, that the port was filled to bursting with interned Balboan warships. Still, knowing and seeing were two different . . .

Son of a bitch, she thought, that aircraft carrier is tracking me with their lasers! Is that legal? Can anything be done about it if not?

If anyone had asked her, Felton would have happily admitted that nothing, absolutely nothing, made sense to her in the Republic of Santa Josefina, anyway, so, Why shouldn’t ships theoretically interned be continuing to train to engage targets?

Hauptmann Felton checked her position on the map, then again on the Global Locating System. It wasn’t a surprise that they matched; in this part of the theater the Balboans either couldn’t mess with the GLS or, for reasons of their own, refrained from doing so. That was just as well, she believed, since she was now flying a much bigger target, and one that would make for a very hard landing in case of a crash.

Felton was just as happy at having been pulled out of flying Hacienda 121s and put back on heavy lift in T16s. The “16” was for the tonnage. In other respects, they were twin engine, prop-driven aircraft, with relatively wide bodies and a tail ramp for ease of loading and unloading. In this case, unloading involved dropping by parachute. Part of her joy was that she’d seen the inside of the cargo bay after the drop on Balboa, and before the maintenance people had hosed out the blood and body parts. It had been a sobering experience and one she really didn’t want to be reminded of.

Not ever again.

Back in the cargo hold of this plane she had six pieces of equipment, all unusually lightweight. These were two small bulldozers, manufactured by Wu Can Machinery Corporation (five and a half tons between them), a backhoe (Bright Day Industries, three tons), two towable backhoes (Model KB512, under a ton, between them) and a coral and rock crusher (Tiger Mining Machinery, Ltd., two-point-eight tons).

It wasn’t an ideal mix, she suspected, for any purpose, but likely a compromise between what the Zhong needed and the weight and cube of the aircraft that would be delivering. Even with the weight, her T16 had cubed out before it had weighted out.

Or, more technically, squared out because there was lots of unused cube left, even after the square area of the deck was all taken.

What I’m carrying should be enough for the Zhong to start work. Felton thought. And I saw enough other kind of equipment waiting for pickup that I’m not going to worry for a minute about whether the Zhong engineers have thought it through.

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

“There, Admiral,” Ma Chu said, pointing at the approaching T16.

“Will they drop it all in one spot, or lay it on line?” Wanyan asked, while thinking, You know, I really should have asked my staff.

Ma shook his head. “I don’t know, sir. I was a marine, not a parachutist. But . . .”

“But?”

“I’m guessing here, but my guess is that they won’t want to risk dropping one heavy piece on another, and that they’d have to come around a bunch of times to get them all to land close together, even if they wanted to. No enemy is shooting now, but that’s just fortune . . . and you train for bad fortune, not good. So, I think they’ll do it on line, maybe come around once if there’s not enough room, but otherwise drop and scoot.”

“Makes sense,” Wanyan said. “Let’s see.”

***

With the marked drop zone coming up fast, Hauptmann Felton’s hands shook for no reason she could put a calm and objective, or even a trembling subjective, finger on.

Maybe that laser back at Puerto Bruselas has me spooked, she thought. Or maybe it’s the memory of my last drop. Or the flesh and blood or . . .

Never mind, she reminded herself. This is a secure drop zone. So they tell me, anyway. May it remain so.

***

Wanyan snapped his fingers at his driver, who immediately produced a set of binoculars.

Putting them to his eyes, he zeroed in on the tail of the oncoming Tauran–No, those colors say “Sachsen,” don’t they?–transport. The admiral held his breath as first a small bundle appeared just behind the aircraft. It blossomed into a green streamer, a parachute, which filled with air then turned into four of them. Those four then seemed to stand still, once opened, while the plane continued onward. Indeed, from Wanyan’s point of view, it seemed that the first item dropped suddenly materialized in the air where the plane had been when the parachute first opened. The heavy load, a small bulldozer, it seemed swung down and around the four parachutes like a pendulum, except not so well controlled.

Satisfied with that one, the admiral dropped the binoculars, visually reacquired the T16, and then slapped the field glasses back to his eyes. This time, he didn’t see the small bundle of ‘chutes appear. Instead he saw two open, and another vehicle appear. Unfortunately–and it was unfortunate enough to bring a curse from Wanyan’s lips–the two chutes were not enough to do more than drag the load out. One chute tore, then fluttered into a streamer, while the other seemed to just disintegrate under the load. The load, a backhoe, spun end over end before smashing into the ground, creating a great geyser of rock, dirt, vegetation, all nicely punctuated with shards of yellow painted steel.

“Fuck!”

 

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