The Ship's Magician
- May 15, 2009
Chapter One: False Promise
"If you are going through Hell . . . keep going."
“Are you sure this will work?” the boy asked, clutching his rifle.
“Just do your job, Irregular,” Major Thomas Hardy grunted. He picked up the phone from its jack, idly listening to the sounds of the Syndicalist rally a few blocks over.
“The phones don’t really work,” the irregular offered helpfully. Hardy sighed.
“This one will. Go check out that rally.”
“Yes, sir,” the irregular replied with a salute. He was an eager kid – probably hadn’t seen battle yet.
Hardy had been at Saint Paul and Milwaukee. He knew what he was getting into. He rang a number and leaned against the wall, wondering if there was time for a quick smoke.
Probably not, he decided with an inner sigh. He popped a stick of gum into his mouth instead.
“Hello?” a wizened old lady’s voice sounded from the receiver. “Is that you, Jack?”
“Hey, Ma,” Hardy said, thinking fast. “You wanted me to pick up two loaves and a carton of eggs, right?”
“Is that right, dearie?” the old lady replied. Hardy had no idea who she was. “I thought it was one loaf and some milk.”
“No, Ma, my list says two and eggs. You having memory problems again?”
“Hold on, Jack. Old Man Doug’s at the door again. Let me see what he wants. He fancies me, you know.”
“Oh, Ma,” Hardy sighed. He continued chewing while he waited. After five minutes, he casually checked his pistol, then holstered it. After ten, he made sure he had his officer’s saber and knife, as well as the grenades he’d went to a lot of trouble to beg, borrow or outright steal. They were hard to come by.
“Doug wants to make some toast this morning. Two loaves and eggs?”
“Should be enough. What’s he bringing?” Hardy asked, spitting out the gum.
“He says his daughter’s got twelve loaves, since she’s coming with her friends. No eggs though. It’ll be a regular hoedown.”
“Thanks, Ma,” Hardy acknowledged. “I’ll get shopping.”
“Ma” had hung up before he even finished. Hardy sighed, then abandoned the telephone and marched off after the irregular.
Where did that boy go? Hardy thought with a flash of irritation. Must have climbed into that hotel to get a look at the rally.
Hardy followed his train of thought and went inside the ruined building. The Unionists were bombing Chicago night and day to try and convince Jack Reed to surrender. It hadn’t worked, and there were rumors Reed had even run the St. Lawrence river on a steamboat and made it to Europe. Fool’s rumors, for sure.
Hardy entered a room to find a pair of irregulars trading a single set of binoculars, a scope-equipped rifle lying unattended beside them. Hardy cleared his throat.
“Major, sir, I was about to come get you!” the boy from earlier called, saluting. “There’s something big goin’ on down there. It’s regular circus, if you get my drift. That’s the Second Platoon we lost a couple nights back.”
Hardy frowned. “Alright, son, let me have a look.” He took the offered binoculars and examined the old stadium ahead of him.
Hardy was thirty-four years old – just too young for the Weltkrieg. But he’d been in DC during the retreat action, and had fought with Old Man Doug all across West Virginia and Kentucky in the astounding Douglas Breakout. He’d fought Unionists, Syndicalists, and even New Confederates.
But he’d heard his granddaddy’s tales about the War Between the States, and the firing squads where Dixie men put suspected Union spies to death. Of course, he’d also heard of the opposite number, but that didn’t really matter to a Californian like Hardy.
What mattered was the collection of men being led toward nooses by a legion of Syndicalist troops. Anger washed through the Major and he clenched the binoculars, nearly breaking the irreplaceable item.
Focus, he told himself. You and the irregulars need to find their commander – Colonel Johnson, or something. Whatever – I know what he looks like.
“We should do something, sir,” the boy chimed in. “We can’t let them kill our boys!”
Idly, Hardy wondered if the boy was still grappling with puberty. He didn’t look any other than the Major’s nephew.
Probably wants to be a big damn hero.
Hardy stiffened. “Boy, get Lunt and get him moving in on that stadium with everything we’ve got.”
“We’re saving them?” the boy asked, eagerness flashing on his face.
“Don’t get all heroic,” Hardy grunted. “That’s their commander in the front row. Markie, get in position. We’re doing this.”
“Sir, reconnaissance reports the enemy has two divisions in the Chicago area, plus one air compliment of fighters and tactical bombers approximating one air division.”
“Thank you, Hilda,” the general’s aide said. “That will be all.”
Hilda saluted weakly, then leaned back in her wheelchair and allowed her nephew – a Marine, honest to God! – to roll her out of the HQ. The General grunted.
“Two divisions and tactical bombers. Shouldn’t be too difficult.”
“Ah, but General, there’s also the eight understrength Syndie divisions around the perimeter holding the Minutemen at bay,” General Richardson pointed out. He rubbed his chin. “If they move in, we could be in the soup.”
“Won’t matter,” the General said. “We’ll crush them anyway – we have the finest boys in the USA here. I believe in our men and I believe in us. Send the orders to get the attack moving.”
“Yes, General MacArthur,” the aide acknowledged. The generals ignored him and resumed studying the map, a collection of runners and radiomen standing ready to attend to their every need.
Benjamin Kudros shoved the Irregular closer to the nooses.
“That’s what you get for spying and sabotaging,” he chuckled. “No one screws over the Revolution!”
The other guards laughed at the attempted wit. The speaker at the front of the stage eyed the line of Federalist agents being organized, then turned his attention back to the crowd.
“Witness the power of the proletariat!” he called. “The People’s Law will be upheld!”
Kudros smiled. “Freedom!” he called. The other guards, and even the crowd, echoed him.
“Show them your power!” the Speaker encouraged, smiling at Kudros for a moment. “RISE UP! You have nothing to lose but your-”
The Speaker toppled to the stage, blood exploding from his chest. A woman in the audience screamed – the only sound for a moment.
“-but your lives,” Hardy finished dryly, raising his rifle. “Good shot, boy.”
“Thanks, sir,” the boy replied, aiming the rifle again. Hardy shook his head – he hadn’t learned the kid’s name. Probably didn’t matter anyway.
“Alright, irregulars!” Hardy roared. “STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER!”
His men let out a cheer – rippling as the message was passed from man to man around the stadium. Gunshots exploded from inside, and Hardy grabbed his rifle. He nodded to the boy and raced outside.
He didn’t really notice the fight in the stadium, per se – he was sure that the Syndie commander was long dead. What he noticed was the CSA cavalry riding down the road, pistols ready, preparing to engage any Federals they saw.
Hardy fired. A horse dropped with a screeching cry, crushing its rider. The other cavalrymen spurred their animals off the road, leveling their pistols.
Hardy threw himself behind a car, wincing as bullets kicked up masonry all around him. From the buildings, more guns started shooting, catching the cavalry in a crossfire. There were screams and shouts from all sides now as the Irregulars and the Federalist Pathfinders who had linked up with them surged forward, overrunning the stadium and surrounding area.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Hardy swore he could hear a sudden wave of artillery fire to the west.
It's been too long. I was finally talked into buying Darkest Hour by a few friends of mine. Whereas the attempted multiplayer didn't work out in spite of Hamachi and extensive work on port forwarding fixes, one good thing came out of it.
I should have bought DH a long time ago.
I've been away from HOI for nearly two years now, and I'm finally falling back into line with repeated DH Kaiserreich games. This is my working back up from a long hiatus away. I've decided to share the epicness of the Second American Civil War with the Paradox community, to symbolize my returning to the game. I have a sizable buffer already established, and at the least I should finish this immediate campaign I'm engaged in.
I'll leave it to you to determine which faction I'm playing.