The sun was still shining, the sirens had finally gone quiet. Plumes of black smoke rose from the south and southwest. The enemy helos had shot up the town and taken out a few more buildings.
They had their own plume of smoke—
With plenty of loiter time, they’d gotten all of the Confederation decoys. They’d missed everything that mattered, and that was good as the reports flowed in. After a good half-hour, forty minutes of action, the enemy had finally departed, all weapons presumably expended.
One of the 20-mm cannons had registered hits on two of the four gunships, and that might have been the convincing factor: time to go.
With all the trees and hills around, in their little clearings and down in the valley, the Sky-Cats in Roussef had never even gotten a lock—she’d have to think about that one, especially as the enemy had flown right through the zone covered by their sensors. The trouble was all those trees—with the enemy flying at low altitude and keeping the speed up. One quick flash of data and the thing was gone before lock-up.
It was a shock to see the Command Centre destroyed, and yet they’d been expecting it all along.
Unfortunately, there was no evidence as to how the enemy’s intelligence service had obtained the information. Ultimately, it was just a big room with a bunch of electronic equipment in it, and pretty disposable compared to the price of the long-range missiles it had taken to destroy it.
It was a moot point, but half the town of Roussef probably knew about the place by now, (which meant, on some level, that everybody on the planet might have known), and that certainly included their first centre. According to the initial reports, it was still intact, albeit abandoned and stripped of all useful equipment. That might have been good intel on the enemy’s part. Not worth wasting a pair of rockets on that one. The second location was a write-off, and while a few people were looking at Dona for guidance or inspiration, the more experienced ones were already sprinting for the vehicles.
Wheeler, Chan and Captain Aaron were giving some calm and unhurried orders.
“People. Get a-hold of all off-duty personnel. Tell them to head straight for Ryanville.”
“We’re on it, Colonel.”
As a precaution, the vehicles were parked a minimum of fifty to one hundred metres from the building, a hastily-emptied family grocery store in the northeast corner of the town. Their trenches and undergrounds were a minimal fifty to seventy-five metres in the opposite direction—an elementary precaution, but one that appeared to have worked. People could run that far in the time allotted. It was heavily-treed, it was down in a tight little valley, with all sorts of non-descript buildings around. Still, the enemy had found it, and found it pretty good.
“All right. Ladies and gentlemen. Command Centre Three is now active. We need to get our asses up there, pronto.” There was no longer anything left to do in Roussef.
Nothing for the command team, anyways. There would be stay-behind parties. As usual.
“There’s not much worth salvaging here.”
“It’s okay, Colonel. Someone will have a quick look.”
The skeleton crew that had set up in Ryanville would man the boards until relieved.
Chan was on the fibre-line and to a limited extent, the radio to their scattered field units—
Captain Aaron was very much on it, letting the rest of them know in a calm voice, as their eyes met momentarily—he gave her a wink and a wry grin and she nodded firmly.
There were cars, trucks and busses zooming down the Walzbruch Line, clearly with a view to bugging out, and she had some concerns about traffic—and more missiles.
“I would suggest a road-block up the line, uh, maybe a kilometre or so.”
“Do it.” A trooper at his side turned and sprinted for a Puma, grabbing another one by the elbow in passing.
Two would be enough, in her mind, and so that was it.
Anything that kept the civvies off the road was a good thing, and the few troops needed could fade off into the bush in the event of a real emergency. The thing to do was to get her people out and then let the civvies clog the roads…however cold-hearted that might be.
It wasn’t like she could actually control them—they were getting some garbled reports of a resistance movement south of the battle area, and there had been one or two light ambushes by the civilian force along Highway 2. There were too many reports coming in, and of course no boards—no boards.
There was still some feeling of shock—it all still seemed so unreal.
“Thank you.” Putting the com unit up to his mouth, he moved away and began speaking, grabbing people, naming names and giving orders. “You. Don’t forget to cut that line.”
He was referring to the fibre. The soldier nodded, still moving.
“Yup, Right on it, Captain.”
A Panther slewed to a stop beside her and a few other Command Centre staff.
“Colonel Graham. We would suggest that you go now.”
“Ah, Roger that. And thank you—”
Vicky was right there at her elbow and she reluctantly tore herself away. Stowing her weapon on top of a half a dozen duffel-bags in the back, an anonymous trooper slammed the hatchback and Dona climbed into the front passenger seat.
Someone tossed her small personal bag and a bottle of water into her lap…
Senior officers would all be traveling separately, more or less in order of their relative importance.
The door was almost closed when she had an urgent afterthought.
Major Chan shook her head.
“Don’t know, Colonel. But we’ll let you know. Civil or military.” She’d seen all of this before, whereas Dona hadn’t.
“All right. Thank you. In which case, I am out of here.”
Vicky slammed the door the rest of the way and the wheels spat gravel as the driver gunned it.
There was no time to wave goodbye. The side and rear windows were all heavily tinted anyway.
The main battle map was before her on the dashboard, with smaller pix from various situations strung out in a long line, down low along the bottom of the hard-screen.
It was her Command Centre, now safely ensconced in the village of Ryanville.
“Your eyes only.” The young female face looking at her was grim.
Trooper Giffel. Nice kid, from Rigel Nine or so Dona recalled. An A-plus student. Dona recalled a dark young man in attendance upon her. A little young for her, but that one had definitely been cute. She’d seen them coming and going from class once or twice—and she had even wondered, once or twice since then, whatever happened to him, anyways.
“Very well.” She nodded. “Thank you.”
There was a package, the bogus little buff envelope icon down low on the screen of her com-unit.
A quick thumbprint and it opened to a scene that was frankly shocking. Pictures and sound, all of the sickening details.
Her heart pounded, and then she shook her head in disgust.
“All right. Hmn. Ah—” Her mind raced.
This would be all over the civilian television and radio networks, naughty bits blurred and pixelated maybe, and even with the phone net down—surely this could only be temporary, but there was just no way of holding this garbage back.
The Unfriendlies would make sure of that.
“Okay. Open access. I repeat, open access. Put it up on the board.” She sighed. “Label it enemy propaganda.”
The kid looked shocked—
The mental image of her commanding officer, her former teacher, the most dominant figure in their lives for these past few days, very intense days, dancing around in a drunken stupor, eyes glazed over with whatever was the dope of the day, stripping out of the blacksuit, flinging it aside, and then engaging in the kinkiest of sexual activities. It would be compelling. Yet she’d been there all along. Right in their ears and in their heads.
They all knew that—and so would most rational civvies. Hell, even the natives would quickly see through it.
And what the hell else could she do.
Snapping off the unit, she settled back into her seat.
Don’t sweat the small stuff—her father’s voice, right there inside.
But the sight of what was a pretty good simulacra, a virtual Dona Graham, somehow having kept her silvery stiletto shoes on what were some pretty microscopic feet, wearing nothing but big, trashy jewelry, naked, gasping, moaning and begging, was nothing if not disturbing.
Boinked up the ass, as it were. Breasts unnaturally large. Surrounded by a ring of very black men, she was apparently sucking every cock she could find, eyes glazed and with jizz—sperm, running down her face in the unnatural white of what was probably just good old mayonnaise. Or its film-shop equivalent.
Whore of Babylon!
The narration was nothing if not predictable.
The people of Deneb would probably laugh when they saw it—it was totally inappropriate for the culture, although it would have gone over big on Shiloh.
A wry look stole over her face.
She shook her head. Sure, she was angry, but she’d been almost eager to take that call.
I knew I shouldn’t have answered that—that bastard.
The old goat.
There was one hell of a knot in her stomach.
The vehicle was very quiet, her security detail carefully avoiding her eyes. But they had all the information too, by now. They had to—it went with the job. Hers and theirs.
She lifted her chin and looked around. She nodded at Jonesy. She let out a breath.
“…it’s all right, people. No big deal—I suppose I really ought to be flattered. The general has clearly been obsessing over me.”
“I’m going to kill that bastard, Colonel.”
“Shut up, asshole—” Sergeant Jones growled, deep and low.
The trooper on the left side of the back seat looked away, face beet red.
Not if he got there first—the message was all too clear.
“No, people. It’s all right. This is war, okay? It’s just shit. And now we know a little bit more about our man, and, ah, how he thinks. Our plan always was to win, and that sort of thing must always come at a price. Huh. Anyways. We’ve got a bit of a drive ahead of us, and quite frankly, I could use a nap.” There were seat controls down on the side, and she fiddled around until the thing was just right.
The electric heat was really something.
No one said a word, and her driver, a Trooper Williams as displayed in her goggs, reached over and turned up the music.
Just slightly, but it was enough. Junior rank, surrounded by brass and sergeants and senior troopers, he had a nice way of dropping a hint—
The Colonel doesn’t want to be disturbed right about now.
The scenery was still just as rugged and just as beautiful as it had been in her initial impression.
Well, they were pretty quiet back there, although they were still working and watching their own devices. Williams was competent enough behind the wheel, going a hundred and forty-five kph on winding, twisty roads, albeit still paved this far south of Ryanville.
They seemed to have calmed down pretty quickly, as mad as they were.
Mad as hell, in fact.
Sometime after that, in a kind of secular miracle, she really did fall asleep.
God, what a fucking day.
She might have even snored.
(End of part twenty-seven.)
Image One. Denebola-Seven Chamber of Commerce.
Image Two. Collection of Louis Shalako.
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Image Four. Carl Weathers.
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Image Six. Trooper Williams. Collection the author.
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