“Oh, Jesus, what now.” Paul was sagging a bit at the knees by this point, but the Confederation troops were withdrawing in good order on the road to Ryanville.
They were looking at a battle, as the natives swarmed over the unfortunate Unfriendly advance guard. Her own people had held fire, and probably rightly.
Some of the orange dots, in this case, that were the enemy soldiers, especially the forward pickets, were already cooling…
There were strange sounds coming from the enemy radio-monitoring station, the trooper there with a blank look on her face and a quick shrug at Dona’s inquiring look. She shook her head.
“Where’s Mister Higgins?”
“The interpreter. Get him. Now.”
“Yes, Colonel.” The girl began tapping buttons.
The fellow’s number was taped to the top of the trooper’s hard-screen and hopefully he would be standing by. It was broad daylight, on a weekday—what an insane thought that was.
From what they were hearing, it sounded like the natives were yelling into several com-units taken from Unfriendly soldiers.
If nothing else, now they knew whose side they were on. If the natives were on the radio, then Higgins could talk to them.
They’d made a real nice mess of that roadblock, too—
They were grabbing the weapons and burning the vehicles, which was exactly what she would have done.
This time, they didn’t seem to be taking too many prisoners.
Corporal Twon’s heart thudded in his chest, the sense of danger ever-present.
Their ambush successful, and with no casualties to worry about, they had taken what was hopefully the most unexpected tack. This involved evading to the south—away from home base, gone now anyways, safety, their own vehicles. They weren’t even headed for Deneb City, not directly. They were pretty sure they had gotten three Unfriendly scouts, which were some of their best troops. Those guys were career soldiers, and there had definitely been a couple of enemy wounded.
With that kind of casualty load, in a party of fourteen or fifteen, there were only so many options.
One option was for the enemy to simply withdraw, in the direction of their vehicles.
Another option was to try to rendezvous with another patrol. Pooling resources, they might get together a few stretcher parties and try to get the wounded out. The remainder would still be an effective unit. Depending on the numbers, perhaps more than one.
They might bring in helos and try a vertical extraction or lug the wounded to the nearest level clearing.
It would be nice to get a shot at one of the choppers. So, far, there was no sign of it, which implied certain things—some very dead or dying people and possibly a few wounded lightly enough that evacuation wasn’t called for. There were only a limited number of enemy helos, in which case why not use a civilian unit?
Civilian aircraft in Deneb City were being withheld so far. The enemy might have assumed they were all booby-trapped, when in fact none of them were…
With no information forthcoming, and with only four helos on the board, all accounted for elsewhere, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect next. There were reports of more enemy patrols, a second wave out there, and he wanted to avoid them. In the meantime, night was falling. His people were under good cover, deep in a tangled thicket of Terran hawthorns. It was a species that might not have been in the original plan of terraforming, but down in the lowlands, it had established itself with a vengeance. One original seed, stuck to the butt of one imported Terran animal species, (or more likely, the clothing of one colonist, as the animal population had all been transported as embryos in cryo), had been enough to establish the species. Or maybe it was two seeds. Someone might have smuggled them in against regulations. The point being, that trees were sexual. They had to pollinate, and there was such a thing as genetic drift.
Tomorrow they might do another fifteen or twenty kilometres. At that point, they would be very tired, but also very close to where the enemy had stashed a half a dozen four-by-fours. There were several people guarding them, but they were still vulnerable. Those people would have the keys…
In the meantime, the Confederation team members were conserving rations, traveling very quietly and watching the back trail.
Stomachs were always tight.
They had the big dogs out there on perimeter, they had laid cameras and vibration sensors, and at that point his eyes grew so tired that he thought he would just lay there and examine the insides of his eyelids for a while. His hips, knees and ankles ached, and he sure as hell wasn’t getting any younger—
All them fucking hills.
His neck and shoulders hurt from the constant load, and the asymmetry of carrying a weapon on one side all the time.
And that was about it for a while, until he woke with a silent start at exactly four-eighteen a.m.
The stars were killing in their brilliance, and with the bigger moon up, one could almost read a book—it was nonsense, but it conveyed a certain sense. Someday, that one was going in his memoirs.
It was absolutely windless, something that mostly didn’t happen during daytime.
It wasn’t exactly quiet, far from it.
He lay there for a couple of minutes, listening to what sure sounded like crickets, or maybe those tiny little frogs. Spring peepers, was what they called them back home. Birds, and even a few of the native bugs still. The lower back and the hips were not good. Some movement would help, although the first couple of kilometres would not be fun. This might be a good day to take a pill, although the shock to the guts wasn’t very welcome. The n-codeine pills always did that to him, a fact rarely reported by others. It was his own unique body chemistry, he supposed. He wasn’t getting any younger, and the truth was that he had done some pretty hard drinking over the years…
This was autumn, and it was damned cold out there. It wasn’t all that warm under the lightweight plastic space-blanket, come to think of it.
The corporal had one of them awful piss-boners to boot.
It was the start of a whole new day.
(End of part thirty-two.)
Image One. Ryanville Gazette.
Image Two. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Three. CPCO.
Image Four. Foreshadowing, collection the author.
Image Five. Collection of Louis Shalako.
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