“It’s snowing.” He grinned. “Heavily. The locals say there will be half a metre by morning.”
“Ah. Thank you.”
“Get to the boats, Harvey. Please.” Her own ride was sitting out front in a Puma, and the sooner they got moving, the less chance of a missile or artillery attack on the Command Centre.
“Yes, Colonel. Roger that.”
Shouldering his weapon, he grabbed one big bag by his desk.
The door closed and it was just her.
With Confederation contingents scattered all up and down the hills, her troops had conducted one last series of night attacks on the Unfriendly positions just a bare kilometre from the beginning of the commercial strip on the edge of town. They could only leave it so late, as the Unfriendlies would clearly be expecting it by now. For that reason, the attacks had consisted of sniper fire from commanding heights, big dog attacks and mortar stonks.
The enemy had lost some troops, some weapons and vehicles perhaps, not to mention sleep. Her own people needed time to get down off of the hills and escape through the back alleys and side-streets of Ryanville.
Her last three laser-cannons were spaced out, on commanding heights or right at street level, where a kink on Main Street allowed for some cover, good concealment and a long, straight shot at anything coming down and around the corner from that last little rise…
Every automated weapon available had been deployed using such tactics. The local civilians knew what to look for. By the time the Unfriendlies took the town centre, all of that would be taken out of play. Probably destroyed, one way or another. In the case of a laser-cannon, if a person came in from behind, there was a simple switch to turn it off and an instruction tag in ten common languages.
Even the Barker teams had been withdrawn and were proceeding to the rendezvous.
Command Centre Three was all but deserted, all senior staff now making their way to the docks.
It was four a.m., at this time of year, a good three or four hours before proper sunrise, and in this country, even longer before Deneb broke above the hilltops. With this weather, it promised to be another dull, damp, chilly day. Hopefully, a very snowy day. There was a sound behind her.
Thinking someone must have stayed behind against explicit orders, she turned, hand hovering over the key on their little device. After she hit that, she had no choice but to leave. All businesses and dwellings within a three-hundred metre radius had been evacuated, as the charge was a big one…
Perhaps it was nothing. The place seemed totally quiet, only the distant thud of the enemy weapons and the scream of incoming shells landing all over the town a reminder of the current situation. Then there was the weather, which was whipping up.
Probably just a branch hitting the side of the building, an eaves-trough perhaps.
After one last walk-through the various small offices and cubicles, turning off lights as she went, in an impulse that seemed a bit off, she came into the main room.
She stopped dead.
“Good morning, Lieutenant-Colonel Graham.”
Her jaw dropped.
“Brigadier-General Renaldo.” She shut her mouth firmly. “Ah—how in the hell—”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Dona. The technology is highly classified. But, suffice it to say that I am here, and that is all you really need to know.”
Eyeing the station where the destruct button was, along with the switch to finally begin jamming enemy radio traffic including the drones, she heaved a deep sigh and dropped heavily into the hot-seat. The people at the docks would wait—she had no doubt of that. If they didn’t, there were plenty of other boats lined up along the wharf. She could probably canoe a hundred kilometres in four days with calm winds.
She had the typical ration-pack for three days in her pack and a few snacks and candy-bars thrown in. There was plenty of fresh water out there…
“So. General. What’s up.”
“You’ve done a remarkable job here. A wonderful job. I am so very sorry to have to do this to you…”
Her face hardened.
“Do what, exactly?”
There was a faint knock at the door.
It was the general who spoke.
There were two of them, Sergeant Kelly and Trooper Noya. Kelly looked pretty grim, but Noya flashed her a bright smile. They had their personal weapons, their bags. They were all set to go—
She watched, open-mouthed, as the General moved to her terminal and hit a button. The chip popped out, and he pocketed it thoughtfully. Every bit of data gleaned so far.
“Colonel Graham. You will please call, ah, Lieutenant Wheeler, or Lieutenant Tanguy, down at the docks. Whichever one is still there. You will tell them that you are unable to presently escape and that you have Kelly and Noya with you. You are surrounded by a considerable force. Use the exact words. Tell her that you will be all right and that there is to be no hare-brained attempt to come back and get you out. That is an order.” Reluctantly, face tight and hard, she had little choice but to comply.
She kept it short, a brief text message.
Wheeler responded immediately, ‘affirmative’, and Dona clicked off.
On some level, one had to trust higher authority, that didn’t mean you had to like it. Her foot was tapping.
At this exact moment in time, she rather hated him, and everything else.
“…what in the hell is going on here, Brigadier-General Renaldo.”
“Hmn. Yes. Not surprised by your reaction. What is going to happen is that Major Chan will be taking over, with the able help of Captain Aaron. They’re on the scene, and you will be unaccounted-for. They’re fully competent and up to the job. As for yourself, your talents are badly needed elsewhere.”
Walking over to the main battle board, presently beeping in warning mode, it was immediately apparent that the Unfriendlies, noting the distinct lack of manned defenses in front of them, were on the move again…
“We don’t have much time.”
“We don’t need much time. Get your kit, Colonel.” Head turning, he spoke. “Don’t forget the coat.”
It was all there, right beside the door. The mink hanging on a peg above it.
“Naturally, you gentlemen will forget all about this.”
Noya just seemed fascinated.
“And where in the hell are we going?”
With a nod, the General pulled out three small objects from the side pocket of his jacket.
“Here. Take these. Put your thumb-prints on the screen, please.”
“And why in the hell should I?”
Kelly cleared his throat.
“Honestly, Colonel. It is still possible to lose this conflict. I think we will win, we probably will. I’m pretty sure we will, but. Do you have any idea of what would, ah, happen to you if the Unfriendlies got a-hold of you?”
It wasn’t a pretty picture, in his words.
“You don’t want to end up as some kind of a comfort girl to his herd of field-niggers, ah, Colonel.” It was, apparently, still possible for the sergeant to blush.
She tore her eyes away from him.
Her face was flaming—
Renaldo silently regarded her, giving her a brief nod.
The coat, the fucking coat—
Satisfied that they had all been properly identified and located in the space-time continuum, the general spoke briefly into his own device and in one slewing, disorienting snap, they were aboard a ship—what ship she didn’t know, but it was a ship.
“Wow. That was fun.”
“Please, Sergeant Kelly.”
Trooper Noya stood there looking at her and at Renaldo, a faint smile on those handsome features.
“General Renaldo.” I’m waiting…
“First. The self-destruction of our Mark Seventeen satellite did indeed result in the destruction of the Unfriendly satellite—and they only have the one. As per plan, our new Mark Twenty-Three-A satellite has been deployed, and the signal is good. Command Four has already locked it up, and the verification codes were satisfactory.”
“This is going to be a very big storm, perhaps one of the biggest ever recorded.” That was the thing with the early stages of terraforming, the weather patterns were also transformed, by everything from increased solar heating, new gases in the atmosphere, an increase or a decrease in water vapour…higher air pressures, the lot.
“Well, for one thing, you’ve won. General McMurdo will be receiving orders to withdraw. Someone in his headquarters was dumb enough to send that little video, all of them actually, off to the home world. Then authorities on Shiloh were stupider enough to release them for general consumption, thinking it would bolster their cause, perhaps. There was a bit of an uproar in Council. They have their standards of decency. That false decorum towards women for example. Up on a pedestal, and yet enslaved. The other thing is that they don’t much like being embarrassed, Colonel Graham. As for the media, there are hints of mild disapproval. We all know their aim is expansion. This is only a minor setback to them. Anyhow. The people we have, will be sufficient to harry them all the way back down that road. With an expected half a metre, maybe even more of snowfall overnight, and some considerable drifting, it will take a good week for them to dig out and clear the road well enough to travel.” Whereas the lake would take another month or more to freeze.
Her stay-behinds were all in place, fully equipped for winter, including snowshoes, skis, snow-machines, one or two-man four-bys. Insulated coveralls, heated boots and gloves.
Professional troops. People who believed in the plan.
They would carry it out.
Kelly stood there, eyeing her with a quizzical look.
“What ship is this, er, General?”
“It’s the Rodney, Sergeant Kelly.”
“And what about us?”
“Well, that’s entirely up to you. You can always go home, or we can find you another assignment.”
“Ah. Thank you—I think.”
Noya listened intently, head down.
“As for Trooper Noya. We’re very interested in you, young man.”
“Ah, yes, sir.” A stiff little nod, the eyes and the face were now carefully blank.
That was it—reassignment.
“And Paul?” And Vicky, and Harvey, and a hundred others whom she’d liked, respected, ate, slept and drank with, and might never, ever see again.
“When the time comes, a week or ten days maybe, it will be announced that you have successfully evaded capture, along with your companions. A little bit of legend-building, nothing more. And nothing less, Dona. You somehow made your way off-planet by borrowing a small civilian cargo vessel.” There were, in fact, a few of those sitting on the pad at Deneb City, grounded for the duration. “The other thing is that the Unfriendlies still have to get off of this rock.”
Erebus and Terror—Bluecoat II, as he called it. Then there were the fire-teams south of Deneb City.
The cargo ships’ owners were under orders, not just from the Unfriendlies, not to get involved, or to try and escape. The Confederation, after all, was responsible for their safety. Not that the enemy wouldn’t phrase it in similar terms—
“Your people have been well trained. They have enough experience of your tactics to go on. Think of the great burst of confidence, for example, in Major Chan, who, while competent enough as an executive officer, has so far shown no great taste for independent command. As for Lieutenant Wheeler, she is long overdue for promotion—and opportunity.”
“I see, sir.”
“I’m sorry, Colonel. I really am. I know how this must feel. However, I can assure you that your next assignment is a very challenging one, and, that you are going to need all of your skills on this baby…” An opportunity for personal growth, as he put it— “The Organization never does anything for no reason, Lieutenant-Colonel Graham.”
“What was that, Sergeant Kelly?”
“Yes, sir, General, sir. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.” His eyes glittered, and he clearly meant it.
As for Trooper Noya, he appeared to be listening very carefully.
One had to admit, the money was good. He hadn’t been doing anything particularly important anyways. Not lately, and that was for sure.
And then there was Dona—Lieutenant-Colonel Graham. Well. That was one nice lady.
Image One. Collection of Louis Shalako.
Image Two. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Three. CPCO.
Image Four. The book cover for the 5 x 8" Createspace paperback.
Image Five. Buddy, can you spare a dime.
Louis Shalako is the founder of Long Cool One Books and the author of twenty-two novels and numerous short stories. Louis studied Radio, Television and Journalism Arts at Lambton College of Applied Arts and Technology, later going on to study fine art. He began writing for community newspapers and industrial magazines over thirty years ago. His stories appear in publications including Perihelion Science Fiction, Bewildering Stories, Aurora Wolf, Ennea, Wonderwaan, Algernon, Nova Fantasia, and Danse Macabre. He lives in southern Ontario and writes full time. Louis enjoys cycling, swimming and good books.
Louis has all kinds of books and stories availablefrom Amazon, including the completed novel, Tactics of Delay. Please take a moment to rate or review this product.
Thank you for reading.