Chapter Four: Aggressive Defense
I send the pestilence and plague into your house, into your bed;
Into your streams, into your streets, into your drink, into your bread;
Upon your cattle, on your sheep, upon your oxen, in your village;
In your dreams, into your sleep, until you break, until you weep!
I send the storm! I send the horde! Thus saith the Lord!
~ The Prince of Egypt: The Plagues
Corporal William Lawrence threw himself to the ground. He wasn’t sure when the dozen or so other men had formed up around him and Bukowski – some when they took out those Federals back in the square, probably, and other as the Sergeant’s words echoed through the streets. There were men from four companies and two battalions trying to fight together as a cohesive unit.
“HIT THE DIRT!” Lawrence and Bukowski warned together. The men fell flat.
There was a tremendous wave of explosions from ahead of them, the very earth seeming to shake. The CSA Liberty bombers thundered overhead, having finished their attack run. There weren’t any Federal fighters around, thank God, and Lawrence laughed.
“That’s it, flyboys – get ‘em!”
“Come on, lads, get up!” Bukowski shouted. “We move down the street and occupy the diner at the corner! The Federals are gonna come straight down and we’ve gotta hold them!”
“Yes, sir!” Lawrence affirmed. Bukowski pointed at him.
“Billy, try and scrounge up something heavy to help us keep the area secure. You there! You go with him!”
“Sir!” the chosen soldier agreed. Lawrence turned and led him away, jogging despite the pain from his ankle as he sought something - anything.
“Right, ladies!” Bukowski was shouting. “Follow me!”
“What are we looking for, Corporal?” the soldier demanded. Lawrence shrugged.
“Machineguns, anti-tank cannons – hell, I’d take a basket of ham sandwiches about now. Anything that could help us hold our ground.”
The soldier looked around. “Watch out!”
He grabbed Lawrence and pulled him out of the road. A second later, a Syndicalist tank ground through the space the corporal had just occupied, flag streaming from the pole on its turret, gun elevated and scanning the perimeter. Lawrence smiled.
“Looks like we found our support, soldier,” he said. “You flag that tank down and get in contact with its commander, tell him left from right. I’ll look around and see what else I can find.”
“Yes, sir,” the soldier agreed, before turning and racing after the armored vehicle. Lawrence let out a long breath.
Right. I’m sure we have something heavy around here to use somewhere. If I was a machinegunner, where would I set up my position?
Lawrence scanned the various buildings. After a moment, he isolated a spot on the third floor of an apartment complex that had somehow lived through the Unionist bombing of Chicago.
Nice field of fire, well-protected by a brick wall, hard to access – perfect.
Lawrence raced over to the building, checking the door before he entered. Other soldiers were practically gone from the streets, and – thanks be to the God he didn’t believe in! – the artillery had stopped falling. Maybe the Federals were conserving munitions?
Lawrence entered the building, rifle raised. There was always the chance that Federal partisans had taken over the position, after all. The Syndicalist soldier cautiously advanced up the stairs, beginning to sweat again.
Faster! He urged himself, but Lawrence wasn’t prepared to take unnecessary risks. After a few moments, he reached the third floor corridor. Cautiously, he advanced.
It was but the work of a moment to arrive at the windows he’d sighted, and only about five more to check every room. In the last one he found a heavy machinegun, bolted to the windowsill. There was some ammo stashed around the room, as well as a pair of anti-tank rifles.
“Jackpot,” Lawrence murmured.
The operators were probably either dead or caught up in the fighting elsewhere, so Lawrence didn’t feel any guilt about taking their gun. He began to try and pry it from the window, but quickly gave up.
It’s bolted in securely, probably to keep any irregulars from walking off with it. Pain in the ass right now, though.
Lawrence sighted down the street. He had a good line of fire even to the coffee shop – he could see Bukowski arranging his men in position in a house across the street, to create a crossfire.
Settled. I’m fighting from here, since I can’t move the machinegun.
Lawrence grabbed the machinegun. I wish I had a –
“Corporal!” the soldier shouted. Lawrence jumped and reached for his pistol. The soldier saluted. “The tank’s already with the Sarge. I figured you’d have come up here looking for a machinegun and wanted to see if you needed assistance moving it.”
“Thanks, soldier,” Lawrence replied. “But I don’t think I’ll need any help carrying it anywhere. It’s bolted down. Can you feed ammunition while I shoot?”
“Sure thing,” the soldier said, laying his rifle on a table. He pulled a box of ammunition over, then passed Lawrence the belt. The corporal fed it into the gun, then worked the bolt and sighted.
“Federals will be coming any moment now,” he said conversationally.
“And we’ll kill ‘em all,” the soldier growled. “I was there in the New Year’s Strike, when Garner brought the Unionists to work the factory. They deserve no mercy at all.”
“What’s your name, soldier?” Lawrence asked, exhaling a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.
“Tommy Jones, sir.”
“Well, Tom . . . .” Lawrence trailed off. He aimed the gun. “Here they come!”
“Well, this is a regular clusterfuck.”
Colonel Patrick “Texas Thunder” Walker chewed thoughtfully on his tobacco for a minute. He growled.
Fifth Battalion was gone. Not routed, not stalled, not defeated. Just fucking gone. A whole bunch of Syndie bombers had come barreling from Valhalla, for all Walker could tell, and smashed the ever-loving shit out of the Fifth. It was nothing more than a giant smoking crater filled with rubble and broken bodies over there. Walker would eat his flamboyant cowboy’s hat if anyone were still alive.
Second Battalion was screwing around in the factories, even still. Walker snorted. Colonel Arlington was always a hesitant pansy. Probably was justifying his cowardice with “We have to take the industrial centers intact!”
Sure, we do. But they’re even more intact if all the Syndies are dead, idiot.
In short, most of the Federal advance was bogging down. Walker had reached the designated day’s objective – some place called Humboldt Park – hours ahead of schedule. Hell, it was nearly nightfall and everyone else in the Fifteenth Division was still having a rodeo with “heavy resistance” in the suburbs!
There was, in fact, only one other command that was accomplishing jack shit all, other than that damned inventive Major with the Irregulars. Walker made a metal note to meet the son of a bitch as soon as possible and get him transferred to the Third Battalion. He needed guys like that.
Anyway, he gruffly told himself. The other guys.
He spat out his tobacco over the roof of the apartment building, then turned back around. There were five men arranged around a table, while another dozen were standing around with guns – the guards.
“Right, listen up,” Walker called, walking over to the table and slamming a powerful fist down on it. “The cavalry has managed to break through to our south and is currently wrecking enemy artillery. Last I heard from Major Hardy was that his boys just finished disemboweling a Syndie AA battery and are moving toward Arlington’s lead elements to try and catch the enemy in a pincer. Now, Arlington’s a shithead, but more than capable of beating through with a copious amount of help from Hardy and his Irregulars.”
“So we’re not gonna save him?” One of Walker’s officers spat. “Suits me fine. That bastard would have it coming if a train hit him.”
“Certainly,” Walker agreed. “More important: I’m sure you all remember Minneapolis?”
Everyone but Walker, including the guards, winced visibly. Yeah, they remembered.
“Good,” Walker growled dangerously. “That was completely humiliating. Now, I just got wind that Captains Bradford and Price are caught up slugging it out with a bunch of Syndie tanks. Anyone thinking what I’m thinking?”
One man’s face lit up. “We go save their asses this time?”
“Bang-on, Lieutenant Bannon,” Walker agreed. “Your tanks take point and force their way to the river. Don’t go insane – you need infantry cover, and Sanders will provide it.” Walker nodded to another officer. “Malone, you’re on fire control duty. I’m giving Charlie Company to Kackle.”
Monty Malone gave Howard Kackle a sidelong glance, then the two men nodded to each other.
“The enemy is somewhere in Edgewater, and I want to flank them out,” Walker grumbled, patting the map. “Bannon, Sanders, you will push to Lincoln Park, then begin advancing north. Malone will support you, while Kackle uses Charlie and Bravo companies to secure the ground we’ve taken. Melville!”
“Sir?” Keith Melville asked. The Tennessee-born officer was in command of Walker’s cavalry detachment – and got a lot of ribbing over his name’s similarity to a certain author.
“Take the Mobys and get in on Reed’s flank up to the north. I want you to establish a line of contact with Price and Bradford, so we can get to work closing the trap. Break a leg – but make sure it’s just the peg one.” Walker grinned. Melville did the same, but only for politeness.
“Right, lads,” Walker said. He grabbed a rifle from the table, as did the rest of his men. “Let’s get this show on the road. No middle ground – either we’re the laughingstock of the division again, or the Edwards are buying us drinks for a goddamn change. I’m tired of them pulling our chestnuts out of the fire!”
With a nickname like "Texas Thunder" you know carnage is imminent.
One of the concerns as I developed these chapters was the relationship between the Edwards and the rest of the American forces - with the Edwards being foreign volunteers from just across the border, I figure they must have a special role: Technically they're in this war, but it's not their country and they can just hop-skip-jump across the border if they want. Plus, since there's so many Weltkrieg veterans in Canada courtesy of the exiled Brits, it's my expectation that their army is up to snuff and generally just better than the American counterparts.
So I've tried to put them in the light of very capable, very sane men in the middle of a warzone wracked by people learning how to fight a war for pretty much the first time - the proverbial old generation, caught in the world of the new.
There's an unusual sequence coming up in the next chapter. I'm sure you'll all have a blast with it.
@All: Thank you for your comments and appreciation!