Authors: William W. Johnstone
Tags: #Science Fiction
“That means they’ll probably be setting up to ambush us and take pot shots. Tell the first platoon to work forward and start putting some rifle grenades into those buildings. Pour it on. Let’s see what happens.”
When the first several dozen or so 40mm grenades dropped in through the broken windows and open doorways and exploded, there was a mass exodus of those who had met the Rebels with hostility. They were
wearing a mishmash of clothing, varying from long hooded robes to tattered military uniforms.
“All right, people,” Ben said. “Let’s clear the port area so Ike’s 2 Batt can land.”
An hour later, Ike strolled up to Ben: a great big teddy bear carrying a CAR, battle harness bulging with full magazines and grenades. A very dangerous teddy bear.
“Any casualties, Ben?”
“Not a one. You?”
“One guy slipped and broke his ankle. It’s pretty bad. I’m sending him back home. He’s out of it.”
“Well, somebody has to keep the ladies happy back home. It’s a dirty thankless job, I’m sure.”
Ike laughed. “Those who attacked you … any idea who they were or if they were acting alone or part of an organized resistance?”
“We took two prisoners, but so far, they’re not talking.”
“Civilians giving you any trouble?”
“What civilians, Ike? We haven’t seen the first sign of a civilian-man, woman, or child.” He turned to Beth. “What was the population of this city before the war, Beth?”
“Just about three hundred thousand, boss.”
Ben cut his eyes to Ike just as Dan Gray walked up; his 3 Batt was ashore. “So where did the people go? What happened to them?”
“How far in have you pushed?” Dan asked.
“A few hundred meters. Past several streets. Nothing.” He opened a map and spread it out on the hood of a beat-up old car of indistinguishable make. “Dan, start spreading your people up this road.” He jabbed a finger at a spot on the map. “Up toward Medina. Take it slow and careful and investigate each building and alley.”
The former British SAS man went trotting off, yelling at his platoon leaders and company commanders.
“Boss,” Corrie said, “Therm is hollering about coming ashore. He was supposed to follow us. He wants to know what the hold-up is.”
The former hippie-turned-warrior was in command of headquarters battalion; actually a short battalion about the size of several companies, designated 19 Batt.
But Rebel companies were several times larger than the old regular army companies. Rebel battalions were pretty much self-contained, with armor and artillery rolling with them. In the short run, Rebel battalions did not have to call for armor and artillery; they already had it available.
In support of the 19 battalions, there were additional armor and artillery companies separate from them, as well as air. But it would be several weeks before the helicopters and planes arrived on the scene, and another several weeks before the additional armor and artillery companies would arrive and come ashore.
“Tell Thermopolis to keep his pants on,” Ben said. “I don’t have any need for his HQ people just yet. Tell him to stay busy sharpening his pencils. He’ll have plenty to do in a very short time.”
“Advance teams are finding large groups of civilians,” Corrie reported, after acknowledging the radio report. “French-speaking, mostly. With Arabic and various Berber dialects.”
“Get the interpreters ashore,” Ben ordered. “ASAP.” He looked across the wide street, then consulted his map. “We just crossed the Avenue des Forces Armees Royales. We’ve got a long way to go to reach the business district. When the interpreters get here, ask the civilians if there are any creepies around.”
“Sergeant Broussard managed to get his Cajun French
through to them,” Corrie said. “They said no. They didn’t even know what a night person was.”
“Thank God for small favors,” Ben replied. “At least we won’t have those bastards to contend with.”
“Dr. Chase is throwing a fit,” Corrie reported. “Demanding to know why he must remain on board ship.”
“For his own good,” Ben told her. “We can’t bring the MASH units ashore until we find a place for them. Tell him there have been no wounded to care for, so just calm down.” Ben looked around. “Dan’s 3 Batt is moving out. Tell West to bring his 4 Batt ashore and start spreading out to the south. Let’s go talk to some of these civilians.”
“Marauders from the south is all they can tell us, General,” an interpreter told Ben. “The same bunch who attacked us.”
“Marauders? Damn it, marauders didn’t kill off an entire city, Lieutenant. What happened to the people?”
The lieutenant talked with the resident for a few moments, then looked up at Ben. “He says thousands fled when the Great War started. Then poisonous gas came and killed thousands more. For several years, the city was calm, life was hard, but people survived, then the marauders became coming in out of the south. He says there are only small pockets of people all over the city. He thinks there are much larger numbers of survivors south, in Casablanca.”
“Do you trust him, Lieutenant?”
“No. Not at all, General. I get the feeling everything he’s said is a lie.”
“For what reason?”
“I don’t know, sir. But he’s lying. I’d bet on that.”
“Talk to some of the others and let me know your feelings then. I’ll be around.”
Outside, clear of the dimness of the ground floor of
the building, which had held a slightly unpleasant odor of stale grease and unwashed bodies, Ben took several deep breaths and leaned up against the side of a wrecked old pickup truck.
“What’s up, boss?” Jersey asked.
“I don’t know, Little Bit. But something is definitely wrong about this city.”
“You remember what Dr. Chase told us about the danger of rabies in this part of the country? And to be real careful about approaching stray dogs?”
Ben cut his eyes. “Yes. So?”
“Scouts report not one sign of a dog, cat, or rat anywhere.”
“That’s what the people have been eating.”
“Food might coax them out of hiding.”
“But do we really want them to come out of hiding, boss?” Cooper asked.
“Cooper, you’re an asshole,” Jersey told him.
“No, wait,” Ben said. “He’s got a point. We start bringing out tons of food, we could easily provoke riots. But, if we ignore the situation and move on, would we rather have thousands of starving people at our backs?”
“So we’re peacekeepers and humanitarians after all,” a familiar voice came behind Ben.
Ben turned to look at Lamar Chase. “How the hell did you get ashore?”
“I walked on water, Raines. How the hell do you think I came ashore? What are you going to do about this situation?”
“Lamar, we don’t even know what the situation is as yet. We haven’t had time to assess it. It’s dangerous out here. Where is your security.”
“I have a SEAL team all around me. You forget I was Navy before I had the misfortune to meet you. Any more stupid questions?”
“I suppose you brought a team of non-combatant doctors with you, to get in everybody’s way and add more confusion to an already confusing day?”
“Certainly, I did. Now stop with all the questioning and point out where you would like us to set up.”
“We don’t have a place, Lamar. You were told that. We’ve only pushed in two blocks or so from the docks.”
“Fine. So we’ll set up right over there in that building.” He turned and pointed.
“Oh, goddamnit!” Ben said. “Go ahead, you old crocodile. But don’t blame me if you get caught up in a riot.”
“Why shouldn’t I? You’re in command, aren’t you?”
“Sometimes, I wonder,” Ben muttered.
Chase wandered off with his security team to set up a temporary hospital. Ben looked at Corrie.
“Tell the cooks to set up their mess tents and get to cooking. Bake some bread. That aroma should get the people out of cover.”
“This could get scary, boss,” Beth said. “Starving people could easily riot.”
“I know, but we’ve got about an hour to get ready for any trouble. Corrie, have our people set up defense lines. Get any French-speaking Rebels up here on the double. We’ll have four entrances to this area, and only four. We can’t let more people in here than we can safely control. Bump Georgi and have him start bringing his 5 Batt ashore and Therm’s HQ Batt as well. Therm can set up on the docks and I want Georgi with me. Tell them to hurry it up. And tell the cooks don’t start fixing anything with pork in it, or we’ll damn sure have a riot.”
“It’s my opinion that if people are starving, they don’t have the right to be very damn choosy,” Anna said coldly.
“Veil, personally, Anna, I feel the same way about it.”
William W. Johnstone
Ben smiled. “But let’s not tempt fate our first day in the country.”
Ben walked around, inspecting the defense posts. “All people on the defense posts put on face shields,” he ordered. “If the people get ugly, they’ll probably start with spitting and throwing rocks,” Ben told each defense post. “No Rebel life is to be put in danger. If a person points a weapon of any kind at you, drop them on the spot. If they rush you en masse, don’t hesitate to open fire. Because I damn sure won’t hesitate.”
Georgi, the big Russian bear, stormed ashore with his 5 Batt and added part of his people to the defensive line, others in spot locations all around the area, and kept the remainder inside the loose circle with Ben, the mess areas, and the impromptu hospital.
“You people can go play with the fish now,” he told the SEAL team who were protecting Doctor Chase. “Crazy bunch of people,” he muttered, as the SEALs wandered off, looking for something to get into.
“Well, hell, Georgi,” Ben said. “Look who set up the training for them-Ike.”
“I know, Ben. That should explain it all. Ike is still as nutty as the day I first met him.”
Ben didn’t tell Georgi, but Ike felt the same way about the Russian. However, that didn’t keep the two men from being good and close friends. They just were wary of each other’s tactics in the field.
“A few groups of people are approaching the first checkpoint,” Corrie said. “They appear to be unarmed and showing no hostile intent.”
“Damn wogs,” Georgi growled. “I don’t trust any of them.”
Ben hid his smile at the Russian’s use of the old highly derogatory term for Arabs.
“Thieves and beggars, all of them,” Georgi summed up his opinion of the population.
“I should have left you back in the SUSA, Georgi,” Ben said with a laugh.
The Russian chuckled for a few seconds, the vocal expression of humor sounding much like a rumbling engine of a tank. “Ages-old intolerances surfacing, Ben. Pay no attention to me. My father was in this area when I was just a boy. He brought all his prejudices home with him. Personally I have nothing against these people-yet,” he added in typical Georgi Striganov fashion.
“Guards asking if it’s okay to allow the first bunch in,” Corrie questioned.
“Let them in,” Ben said.
“Tell them to check their camels with the attendant,” Georgi said, then grinned, cutting his eyes toward Ben.
Ben laughed and clasped Georgi’s arm. “Let’s go to work, you grumpy old bear.”
“We did not know who you were, General,” a civilian wearing a tattered old business suit said to Ben in perfect English. “So the people ran away and hid.”
“Who shot at us upon landing?” Ben questioned.
“Raiders from Rabat and Casablanca. Thieves and murderers and brigands. They control the entire coastline all the way down to Agadir. Other gangs have control of Marrakech.”
“Why don’t they have control of this city?” Ben pressed him.
The citizen shrugged his shoulders. “They did for years. But now,” he grimaced, “what is there to control? No food. Starving people reduced to eating rats. Disease and no hope and no help from anyone. Spain is in the midst of the worst civil war in that nation’s history. No help there. Algeria and Libya could best be described as a no-man’s land. South of Tarfaya is the same. I am told the airport at La’youn is still, for some strange reason, untouched by the hordes of gangs.”
“As far as I know. It is not safe to venture outside the city, General. Those who do, never return.”
Ben talked with the man a few more minutes then told him to go get something to eat and then get in line for a check-up and some shots.
“I have not seen a doctor in years. Merci, General, for everything.”
Chase had been listening to the last part of the exchange and as soon as the citizen had left, he stepped up and sat down.
“Lamar. I thought you’d be happily sticking needles in people.”
“No joking, Ben. This is serious.”
“What’s the matter?”
“What isn’t? This place has more diseases than a research lab. I’ve sent out a memo to all company commanders to warn their people to avoid intercourse with the natives at all costs. I have never seen so damn many venereal diseases in all my years as a physician.”
“Rampant. There are bugs out there I didn’t even know existed. I’m having a fully stocked mobile research lab flown in as we speak.”
“Whatever you want, Lamar. You’re the boss when it comes to medicine. You know I’ll back you up a hundred and ten percent.”
“I want a directive from you warning the troops about the venereal threat on this continent.”
“You’ve got it. I’ll draft it immediately.”
“There is no cure for many of these strains, Ben. If they contract one of the bad ones, they’re dead, and toward the end, it’s horrible. There is no hope for them.”
“Ben, I don’t think you do. I want you to come with me and look at something. There are a few doctors left in the city, but they’ve had no medicines for years. But they have isolated the bad cases. Come on.”