World War: Campaign for Eastland
Copyright© 2018 by Lazlo Zalezac
The war for Ulamb was progressing slowly. The IFN forces under command of General Santini managed to get organized after the initial blow by the forces of the Jade Empire. They were fighting a slow retreat towards the border of Hamasada. The fighting at times was intense, but General Santini managed to keep the withdrawal from becoming a rout.
Six tribes had been wiped out to the last person. The death toll was shocking. Members of tribes that had resisted fled into the wilderness hoping to get away from the troops of the Jade Empire. They were chased until every last one of them was killed.
Rival tribes that had engaged in raids were horrified that their historical enemies were completely destroyed. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to be done. The invaders were supposed to be whittled away with small raids.
Dozens of tribes had surrendered. A handful of men from the Jade Empire were left in the main town of each tribe. It was their job to monitor what was happening within the tribe. They had been given a number of behaviors to watch for. Was there a sudden change in the patterns of play amongst the children? Were young men of fighting age leaving town in groups of three and four people at a time over the space of hours? Was there a sudden increase in traffic into and out of the local tea house? Were women pulling their kids off of the street? Were men gathering in large groups? Were people avoiding looking at them? Was the town quieter than usual?
Lieutenant Hermes Opal of the Walford contingent of the Jade Empire Army was the head of the Jade Empire presence embedded inside the Sarganti tribe. Earlier that morning, he had reported that the children hadn’t come out to play like they usually did. An hour later he reported that the market was nearly empty.
At the moment, he was not a very happy man. In fact, he was puking his guts out in the bathroom of the small building which served as the office and barracks for the men under him. Two of the eight men in his command were dead in the next room. Their heads had been cut off.
Looking green around the gills, Private Louie Machi said, “No one has entered or left town, all morning. Whoever did this, is still here.”
“It took more than one person to do this,” Lieutenant Opal said after wiping the vomit from his mouth.
“I knew something bad was going to happen today. Things were awful quiet in town this morning,” Private Machi said.
“Wrap the bodies in blankets and carry them out to the truck. While you’re doing that, I’ll make the call.”
“We’ll get the hell out of here.”
Machi looked out the window. In a scared voice, he said, “Lieutenant!”
“There’s a crowd outside. They’re armed and don’t look very friendly.”
“Get away from the window.”
Lieutenant Opal pulled out his cell phone. He hit the speed dial. His call was answered on the first ring. He said, “Code word: Betrayal ... Sarganti tribe ... We’re in the barracks ... Who’s taking the mission ... We’ll stay.”
He listened to the reply. After a short time, he cut off the call. Looking around at his men, he said, “Get out your ear plugs. It’s going to get loud around here, in about seven minutes.”
“We’re kind of at ahh ... ground zero here,” Private Dato said nervously.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Damn. There’s going to be nothing left here,” Private Machi said.
“Is Hamid outside?”
Lieutenant Opal said, “Sergeant Sorci. I want you to fetch Hamid. Take Dato and Machi with you.”
“What if someone gives us a problem?”
“Shoot ‘em. They’re dead, anyway.”
Sergeant Sorci was a cool customer. As if he didn’t have a care in the world, he marched out to where the crowd was gathered. Dato and Machi followed him ready to shoot at the slightest sign of trouble. The crowd watched them approach. They were confident that there was going to be lots of accusations and threats, but that nothing would really happen. Soldiers were full of talk.
When he reached Hamid, Sergeant Sorci said, “We have a situation inside the barracks. The Lieutenant wants to talk with you.”
Hamid shrugged his shoulders and looked away.
“He gave me permission to shoot you in the foot if you didn’t come,” Sergeant Sorci said in a very manner of fact voice.
Hamid snorted. Everyone in the crowd thought that was a pretty funny idea. They knew these men were soldiers, and that the threat was just that – a threat rather than a promise. If the occupiers had been fighters from Ulamb they might have been worried, but soldiers didn’t do things like that.
Sergeant Sorci swung his rifle down. He pulled the trigger with the end of the barrel of his rifle only inches away from Hamid’s foot. The old man screamed in pain. The Sergeant bent over and threw Hamid over his shoulder. He stood up and turned towards the barracks.
“Let’s go boys,” he said over his shoulder to Dato and Machi.
From the perspective of the Sarganti gathered there, it was virtually impossible to believe that a soldier had done that. It was like picking up a cute little fuzzy kitten, and having it turn into tiger. The crowd wasn’t the only ones who were shocked. Dato and Machi hadn’t expected the Sergeant to do that, either.
Dato and Machi were the first to recover. They followed him back into the barracks without turning their backs on the shocked crowd outside. The last thing they wanted was for it to turn into a shootout, because they were well outnumbered.
On their return to the barracks, Lieutenant Opal said, “I heard the shot. Who gave you a problem?”
“Hamid. I shot his foot.”
“That’s a real creative interpretation of my orders.”
“I thought you’d appreciate it.”
The Sergeant looked around the barracks. The bunks had been laid down on their side, forming a protective structure. Mattresses were piled against the frames forming an additional layer of protection. Dressers and other loose pieces of furniture were piled around as the outer layer of protection. He was impressed with how much they had done in the short time he’d been gone.
Sergeant Sorci said, “I see you’ve been doing some redecorating here while I was gone.”
“I thought a little protection from flying debris might be a wise idea.”
“Put in your earplugs. They should be here any minute.”
“What about Hamid here?”
“Dump him over here and sit on him.”
Sergeant Sorci dropped Hamid. While the old man was on the floor, he turned the man on his stomach and then sat on his back. The old man tried to get him off his back, but his efforts were completely ineffectual. Sergeant Sorci was not a small man. Acting like he didn’t even notice the thrashing under him, he fiddled with putting in his ear plugs.
The men sat around waiting for death and destruction from above to arrive. They didn’t have long to wait. The glass window shattered. Even inside the building, the concussions from explosions hit them like punches. The floor moved under them like they were in the middle of an earthquake. The sound, even with earplugs, was deafening.
Hamid screamed throughout the bombing. He continued to scream long after the bombing stopped. The men started removing their earplugs. Even with the protection of the earplugs it was kind of hard to hear.
A half hour after the bombing, the soldiers were seated outside the barracks on a variety of scrap items that served as chairs. Hamid was on the ground with tears running down his cheeks. The town that once held the majority of his people was gone. His whole family – wives, sons, daughters, grandchildren – were all gone. There was nothing left except rubble.
Lieutenant Opal said, “It’s your fault, you know. The Jade Empire lives and dies by the contract. You and the people here broke the contract.”
“The other towns?”
“Gone. Your bloodline has been erased.”
Hamid couldn’t comprehend that. How could they destroy over ten thousand people like that? He wondered if anyone had escaped. He hoped so. The problem was, there had been no warning. There should have been threats.
“Jarjan wouldn’t allow such a thing.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, Jarjan just did exactly that. You’re not the first bloodline that’s been wiped out, and you probably won’t be the last.”
“Everyone is gone.”
Hamid couldn’t believe it. He knew they had told him they would kill everyone if any of the force left here was hurt by anyone from town, but he hadn’t believed them. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen. Regret was too soft of a word for what he was feeling. He shouldn’t have given permission for the men in town to send a message to the occupiers.
“That’s right. Everyone is gone. There’ll be no one to remember you. Your people are gone, all of your ancestors are erased from history, and it’s all your fault.”
“Why don’t you just kill me?” Hamid asked.
“You’ve got to tell others about what happened here.”
“Lieutenant, two helicopters are coming.”
“That will be our ride.”
The helicopters set down where the market had once been located. It was the only real location to consider. It was the flattest spot in town and had suffered the least damage from the bombing. It was large enough for the two helicopters.
Sword Jana stepped out of the helicopter and immediately headed towards the soldiers. They were surprised that a Jade Warrior had come out here. They watched as she paused to face the destruction that the bombs had wrought. She stood there for a moment, speaking some words in a voice too low for them to hear, and then continued on her way to where they waited.
“Lieutenant Opal, I am Sword Jana. What happened here?”
“The locals beheaded two of my men.”
“Where were they killed?”
“In our barracks.”
“You called in a report that the kids didn’t come out to play. Why did you make that report?”
“The kids always come out to play during the cool hours of the morning. This morning there wasn’t a kid to be found anywhere. It was really a major change in behavior. We were told to watch for, and report, that kind of deviation from normal.”
“You made another report later. Why?”
“Yes. We noticed that there were very few people in the market. A couple of sellers and only a few buyers. Normally, the market is pretty busy. By this time, the whole town felt strange. There was this hidden source of tension here. It’s kind of hard to describe it.”
“It was like the wings of Valkyries were beating overhead,” Sword Jana said.
Sword Jana looked over at Hamid. She asked, “What happened to his foot?”
“It was shot.”
“Who shot him?”
“Sergeant, why did you shoot him in the foot?”
“He wasn’t cooperating when I invited him in to talk with the Lieutenant. It wasn’t worth arguing with him.”
“Next time go for the kneecap.”
“I’ll keep that in mind the next time this situation arises,” Sergeant Sorci said dryly.
Lieutenant Opal said, “I have to admit that I was surprised with a seven minute response time, once I called in the code word ‘Betrayal’. I was expecting to have to fight off the men in town for an hour before anyone would show up.”
“Sergeant, have two privates escort this gentleman to the helicopter. You can stay here.”
“Dato and Machi, get him over to the helicopter.”
They would have complained, but they weren’t going to open their mouths with a Jade Warrior around. She watched the expressions on their faces with a tinge of amusement. It was a well known historical fact that soldiers weren’t soldering if they weren’t complaining. She figured keeping quiet had to hurt.
The Sergeant said, “The only reason I always pick on you two, is that you’re both too damned handsome for your own good.”
“Thanks for caring,” Dato muttered.
“We’re feeling the love, Sergeant.”
Hamid was not in a mood to cooperate. Unfortunately for him, no one was too concerned with his mood. The two privates picked Hamid up by the arms and dragged him off to the helicopter. They weren’t rough, but they weren’t exactly gentle about it, either.
Sword Jana said, “You seem to have a good rapport with your men, Sergeant.”
“Thank you,” he answered.
Sword Jana said, “Now that he’s gone, I can answer your unasked question. When you made the call reporting that the kids were not playing, we sent a plane to watch the surrounding area. We wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a mass exodus of people from the other towns. When you made the second call about the lack of activity in the market, we launched a strike force. When you called in the code ‘Betrayal’, we tasked them with taking out the towns.”
“You do that every time someone calls in a report?”
“We’ve been expecting an incident like this for a while now. The tribes figured out that it was a good idea to surrender. Now they have to learn that it is a good idea to stay surrendered.”
Sword Jana said, “I want to know how it is that the attackers managed to get the barracks.”
“We overlooked them.”
“What does that mean?” she asked with a wrinkled brow.
“We expected something to happen around the marketplace. We assumed that they wanted to draw us out to where we’d be an easier target. Our monitors were set to the more distant cameras. We really didn’t anticipate them walking in and killing us right under our noses.”
Sword Jana looked at the front of the building. Bullets would go right through the walls. From a defensive perspective, it was a disaster.
She said, “Did you send in a report that your facilities were too exposed?”
“Yes. I sent one in, right after we got here.”
“I shall task a Shield to review the other sites. You wouldn’t have lasted five minutes against a full out assault here. That, I’m afraid, is our fault. We will correct it.”
“I should have kept one monitor on the front entrance, here,” Lieutenant Opal said.
“Learn from the lesson, and don’t ever repeat it.”
“I’m Sword Jana, not Ma’am.”
“Yes, Sword Jana.”
“Have you prepared your dead for transport?”
“Yes, Sword Jana.”
“Take me to them.”
He led her into the barracks where the bodies were wrapped in blankets. They had no body bags.
Bowing her head, Sword Jana said, “May the War Gods nurture you until it is time for your next battle. We were well met in this one. May we met again on the great battlefield. We are brother warriors in service to the Gods of War.”
“What is that?” Lieutenant Opal asked.
“It is a prayer of farewell, to honor those who have fallen in battle. We say it for everyone who dies in battle.”
“Even the enemy?”
“Everyone on the battlefield are brothers in service to the Gods of War,” she answered.
“I never thought about it that way.”
“Have your men bring them out to the helicopter.”
“Yes, Sword Jana.”
“Sergeant! Walk with me to the helicopter.”
“Sure, Sword Jana.”