"Just A Dream"
Pacification Arc - Epilogue
A Firefight 2.0 short story by Greg Rumbles.
The arc documenting the fight for Coggshall on Bosworth IV draws to a close with this cracking short story which reveals the shocking truth of the Canlastrian's plan...
Lothian Laird Sir Samuel Rumbles watched thin lipped and stonily through his dark gray magna-lenses at the panoramic scene unfolding below him. The device’s internal compass and laser range finder told him the bearing and distance of the incoming attack. His mercenary unit of Tocs Borderers held a position high on a prominent rocky and sparsely wooded ridge running across the valley through which the armed might of the Yordist force was now advancing. They lay directly in the path of the oncoming traitors. The Canlastrian Army Headquarters’ comms channel was blaring a play by play action of the Pryidian’s Sector Championship game, the only unblocked bandwidth his unit could clearly receive on. All of the other wavelengths and frequencies, both radio and micro-sat communications were jammed by the damned Yordist electronic counter-measures. It didn’t matter a damn that the Tocs military comms equipment was designed to cycle through thousands of wave lengths and bandwidths every minute, the ECM were too damned strong. It seemed that football was eternal to both sides…
Sir Sam, as his men fondly called him behind his back, lowered his magna-lenses and thought for a moment, absently chewing on his lower chapped lip. He knew his lone company of Borderers would be overrun today, even though they were backed by an orbiting starship battery, the Brigade’s Super Basilisk guns a full Canlastrian Cavalry Division on approach.
It didn’t matter, they were all too late.
The Canlastrian Army’s line was already breached, it only held in places like this one through the actions of Canlastrian allied defenders, loyal rocks in a Yordist sea. They had proved invaluable to the Canlastrian’s High Command on the ground in buying time against the Yordie threat. Sam thought back to their hasty initial deployment planetside in support of the Canlastrian forces already locked in a deadly embrace with their Yordist foe. All because the Tocs, the mercenary brigade Sir Sam’s Lothian Borderer company was a part of, had accepted the very lucrative emergency contract.
The problem was that the Canlastrian army could not hold onto newly conquered ground. The resources they needed to do so were not forthcoming. It was only later, after far too many deaths, that Sir Sam discovered the chilling truth as to why this had occurred. It had all been part of the Canlastrian High Command’s switch from an offensive strategy to a defensive one. They did not dare let their soldiers who were struggling valiantly to not lose a single piece of captured ground know that they were actually expected to lose it. Acceptable losses in a war that was not their own.
After the Yordist had been initially thrown back by the Tocs’ vicious counter offensive, the survivors escaped into the rocks and deep caverns of the surrounding foothills. Their orders did not include following them down into those deep crevasses. A belief in victory had brought Sir Sam and his men to this desert planet and then the Canlastrian nobles had simply ordered the mercenary brigade to break off pursuit and form into company sized detachments to cover large areas of the Laurelburgh Mountains in an effort that they thought would net the surviving Yordist on the planet. Or so they’d been told.
Once the individual units were alone, they, like Sir Sam and his Borderers, had found themselves under spirited surprise dawn attacks by the Yordist, who came pouring up from the ground in numbers far beyond those mentioned by the intelligence reports. It hadn’t been a total loss. Sam himself had managed to dispatch the officer of the battalion-sized formation that was assaulting his company’s position with a directed shot from a Kelpie’s heavy sentry gun during the initial onslaught. The Borderer’s had even managed to hold their ground, as did a few others among the mercenary companies. Many more however were destroyed and simply swept away in the current of the Yordist tide which had washed over the thinly spread line of the Canlastrian mercenaries.
The fight see-sawed back and forth for four whole days since then. The enemy’s superior numbers were consistently beaten back by the Toc’s superior tactics and manoeuvres after each deadly thrust designed to overwhelm Laird Sam’s contingent. Thankfully the Toc’s were supported by elements of the other broken mercenary companies, survivors who had seen the Tocs stand like a rock against the tide. They fell back, holding on to the slim chance that the Toc’s line gave them, in the belief it would save their lives.
The Lothian Borderer’s now consolidated defensive position was held upon a dog legged ridge top. Those mercenary units which had been isolated and cut off, either through ignorance or military indecision, were overwhelmed. They had been destroyed, no surrender was accepted at this stage of the war. Only the presence of the Canlastrian starships, whose crews had turned their heavy railguns and plasma torpedoes against the planet, had kept the remaining Canlastrian forces from complete slaughter. A series of direct micro-beam transmissions from multiple concealed forward communications and observation positions had allowed Laird Sam and his men to hold a tenuous link with the young Canlastrian Naval Lieutenant Anderson in orbit, directing the batteries that were pulverizing the Yordist ranks for ten standard terran hours every solar day.
Despite this, the situation was not good. Sam knew he was living through the last day he could expect the Canlastrian fleet to maintain their bombardment. Anderson’s hand were tied. The fleet had to keep enough munitions in reserve to defend itself from direct attack. The Canlastrian Command came through, the Borderer’s were on their own, they just had to hold on for just a little longer.
The enemy also knew the orbital support would cease. In light of this, the Yordists committed everything they had, nothing left in reserve, for one last assault . This was exactly the situation the Canlastrian nobility had been waiting for.
Laird Sam and his men on the ground were unaware of all of this, the grand Canlastrian scheme, designed from the very beginning to succeed merely at the cost of the lives of a few thousand mercenaries and mustermen. All Sam and his men knew was that he and his command were doomed to die. There was nowhere left to maneuver and little ammunition. The call of “Fix Bayonets!” echoed down the line as Tocs finally ran out of ammunition. All the troops with fixed bayonets in the battle line of his Borderer’s held on to their grim mutual determination, they would hold their ground.
“We shall be overwhelmed. But we will damned well go down like Tocsmen… and their pathetic survivors will remember us!” Sir Sam hissed under his breath as he turned from his place in the hastily scraped trench line and strode back to his Company Headquarters’ command bunker, cut into the hard packed earth by combat entrenchment tools and a kelpie mounted dozer blade.
“Pass out the last of the Hobbes Bombs lads! Commend yourselves to each other and to your Gods, for today we prove ourselves worthy of our sires and of our name, the Lothian Tocs Borderers!” He commanded proudly with great emotion in his voice as he pointed a gauntleted finger towards the ranks upon ranks of the approaching Yordist horde.
The shell's blast wave slammed into the Colonel, swatting his body backwards and down into the dust before he could hear the blast. His comm's man and the Sergeant Major were down as well beside him and while he could see the Medic suddenly appear by his side, he was cocooned in a cotton like swath of silence. The man's lips were moving but Sam could not hear a word. A frightening thing silence, when one has no idea if they are going to live or die. Gently his men lifted their leader onto his feet as a new sound, that of a ringing hum filled his ears. Sam fought to come back from the gentle embrace of what could have been a sudden death.
"Back away lads! Let me be now. I'm no' 'it. See to the others there!" Laird Sam scowled and his Borderers obeyed. He staggered upon taking his first step, caught himself, and continued the short walk to his command bunker. He needed a moment to pull himself together, a moment away from the eyes of his men. He felt lightheaded and strange. His body tingled as his nerve endings recovered from the violent abuse of the artillery burst.
He felt as if he were out of his body as he watched himself enter his bunker to sit on his bunk and remove his camouflaged iron helmet. Sam was shocked to realize, as he now saw his reflection in a hung mirror, he was much older than he was supposed to be! War ages a man. He continued to stare confusedly as he heard the unmistakable sound of incoming ordnance fire. The earth trembled under the impact of man’s folly and thick dust blew in through the weatherproof poncho covered entrance. Sam saw himself turn as if he was outside of his own body towards two ghostly figures as they walked in to share the bunker’s cramped space with him. The two men wore the tattered battle stained uniform of Lothian Tocs Borderers. Both were wounded, badly, mortally...
Sam’s eyes widened in surprise as his heart pounded for but a moment before settling into himself to steadily meet their gaze. One of the soldiers spoke as Sam found himself staring at the man’s Moth rifle shot forehead as he stood next to the other Tocsman, who had obviously been on the nasty end of a rocket launcher blast. “So, am I still pretty Emeritas Rumbles?” Asked the dark haired dead man Sam had once known as Sarj Brennan. The one Sam had known as Sarj Goodman smiled back at him through a torn face, his chest bubbling as he drew breath.
The old man on the cot slowly stood and wept unashamedly in front of the two apparitions, “I’m sorry... sorry I couldn’t save you. We had a job to do and we got it done. We did our duty that bloody day so long ago.” The apparitions returned Sam’s even gaze. The one known as Brennan spoke, “it’s okay M’laird. We’re okay.” Sir Sam swallowed the lump in his throat before attempting to reply as the spirits of two of ‘his’ soldiers drew themselves to ragged, but disciplined positions of attention and saluted him. He locked into the position of attention himself as sternly and snappily as if he had been upon the ancient and hallowed drill field at New Edinburgh Island off the Highlands, and returned the honours.
Executing proper about faces, the two heroes of Lothia disappeared out into the swirling dust and full throated roar of the battle raging outside and their comrades. “The price of freedom is always so damned high…” Sam whispered to the now empty bunker. Clearing his throat and wiping the sweat profusely dripping from his worried brow, the Company Commander picked up his helmet once again to return to what would be his final battle. A blast met him at the entrance...
Sam shot straight up in his officer’s quarters rack on board the heavy cruiser Canlastrian Wrath with a shout as his dream wrenched mind tore away from the horrible sights and sounds of the wars of which he had just dreamt. Panting, he blew sweat from the end of his nose and released his grip from the ancient pistol he always kept hidden under his pillow.
It had been a long time since he had been visited by old friends…
This article was originally published on Barking Irons Online and is reproduced here with permission.