March to the sea im 2, p.12

March To The Sea im-2, page 12

 part  #2 of  Imperial March Series


March To The Sea im-2

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  "That was well done, Roger," the Marine CO said when the door had closed.

  "He's done a good job," the prince pointed out. "He's been working every night on getting our gear back in shape, and he and Kostas between them have been keeping track of all our supplies, as well. And now this job, without complaint. Well," he corrected himself with a smile, "not any serious complaints."

  "Agreed," the captain said, then leaned back and scratched the tip of his nose thoughtfully.

  "Getting back to the subject at hand," he went on after a moment, "this is a rich city, despite all of the Council's moaning, and this Laborers of God labor force looks top-notch so far. There's over four thousand of them, too." He shook his head. "I don't understand how any city can just set aside twenty percent of its productive male population as a labor force like this, either. Usually, societies like this use farmers in their off time for any required community labor."

  "Eleanora?" Roger asked. "Got any suggestions?"

  "It's the barleyrice production, of course," the chief of staff said. "Always look to basic production in societies like this, Roger."

  "But there wasn't this labor surplus on the far side of the mountains," the prince replied. "Marshad had a fairly normal ratio, and so did Q'Nkok. And Ran Tai, for that matter."

  "Ah, but Marshad and Q'Nkok didn't have draft animals like the turom. Aside from caravan use, the flar-ta might as well not exist as beasts of burden, but that's all they have on the far side of the Tarstens. And Ran Tai—as Poertena pointed out to us at the time—effectively imports all of its barleyrice," O'Casey reminded him with a smile. "I'd say that this place would probably be the center of a Mardukan Renaissance if it weren't locked up tight by the local theocracy."

  She glanced at her notes and shook her head.

  "The agriculture in this area is phenomenal. The turom gives them a remarkable advantage over Q'Nkok and Marshad, and what with the continuously mild weather, an efficient distribution system for nitrates, and excellent crop rotation, they have five crops of barleyrice every year. Five. And nearly as many crops of nearchicks and taters, not to mention three of apsimons. Each individual farmer is tremendously productive, which is why all those extra laborers are employed by the temple—they'd be out of work otherwise."

  "But that condition has to have existed for some time," Roger said, shaking his head. "Shouldn't they have been pulled into other production areas by now? That's the normal reaction to technological improvement; one group is left performing the original function more efficiently, and within a generation the rest of the labor force is switched to other markets, usually new ones that become possible because of the freed labor."

  "True." Eleanora smiled. "In fact, I'm delighted to see that you remember my lectures so well. In Diaspra's case, however, the society clearly reacted by taxing the farmers still on the land to establish a . . . well, call it a welfare system, and putting the out-of-work ones to work on temple projects. I suspect that if we had a time machine, we'd find that that reaction marked the beginning of the growth of the temple's secular power. And it was probably considered a 'temporary measure,' too."

  "Aaargh," Roger groaned. "The only thing more permanent than a 'temporary measure' is 'stopgap spending.' But surely even here they must eventually have the labor shift to new technologies?"

  "Not necessarily." The chief of staff waved her hands in a gesture that included the entire planet. "Marduk is a remarkably stable world. There's very little reason for technological improvement. Frankly, I'm surprised that they ever domesticated animals in the first place."

  "There's a real lack of wheels," Pahner said in agreement. "There are wheeled carts near the cities, but that's about it. They have the concept—there are all sorts of wheels used in their pumping technology—but they don't use it for transport."

  "It's all of a piece," O'Casey said with a quirky smile. "There's very little to drive improvements in this society, and the late Raj Hoomas notwithstanding, most of the city-states—the inland ones, at least—very rarely have major territorial competitions. Wars, yes—lots of those—but by human standards, those wars are pretty small potatoes. And they're not really what we'd call wars of conquest, either. Most of the city-states maintain professional armies to handle the fighting—and do the dying—which tends to insulate the general population from the consequences of combat. And the squabbles between cities are usually over caravan routes, mining sites, and that sort of thing, not over what you might call true life-or-death issues or because some local potentate suddenly got bitten by the notion of building himself some sort of empire. Their climate is fairly constant, too, so they don't have many times when large-scale weather patterns cause big migrations or force technological change. It's a very static society, so any major change probably gets swallowed up by the stasis. Which is probably a large part of the explanation for how devastating a large migration—like the Kranolta or the Boman—is when it finally comes along."

  "What about the other cities in this area?" Roger asked.

  "We'll have to see," O'Casey replied. "My guess from inference is that the states of Rastar's 'League of the North' were more or less parasitic defensive states. They protected the southern cities from the Boman and their fellow barbarians, and in return, they drew off the excess production from the city-states behind their shield. The next tier of states to the north, like this Sindi place, appear to have been secular despotisms, where the excess labor was involved in glorification of the leadership. I suppose that sort of mind-set might help fuel a potential Caesar or Alexander's ambitions, but so far I just don't know enough to hazard a guess as to whether or not it has, although some of the things Rastar's said about Sindi itself sound fairly ominous. And I don't know a thing about the societal types to the south of Diaspra."

  "And K'Vaern's Cove?" Pahner asked. "That's the one I'm interested in."

  "Me, too," the chief of staff admitted. "The more I hear about it, the more fascinated I get. If we think of the K'Vaernian Sea as analogous to Earth's Mediterranean, then the K'Vaernians themselves appear to be the local Carthaginians, or possibly Venetians. Their city is not only the major seapower in the K'Vaernian, but it's also the only one which appears to have reacted classically to technological innovation, although even it doesn't seem to have advanced very far by our standards. But I think we can change that. In fact, I wish we were building this army there."

  "So do I," Pahner said, chewing his bisti root in deep thought. "As it is, winning this war—putting this force together, for that matter—is going to require everyone in the Company to pitch in. And the additional delay makes me really glad we happened across the apsimon. Anything new from Dobrescu on other substitutes?"

  "Not yet," Kosutic told him, and the captain grunted. The fortuitous discovery of the apsimon had caused Pahner to reconsider their earlier acceptance of the survey report's insistence that nothing in the local ecosystem could supply their trace nutritional needs. He was still mentally kicking himself for having overlooked the possibility that such a cursory survey, of which they had only fragments, could have been inconclusive, and Warrant Officer Dobrescu had found himself with a new, extra assignment: running every new potential food source through his analyzers with fanatic attention to detail.

  "Tell him to keep on it," the Marine CO said now. "He will, of course, but we're going to be too busy training Diasprans to look over his shoulder while he does it."

  "And I think I'll just leave that training in your capable hands," Roger told him with a smile. "It's a job for an experienced captain, not a novice colonel."

  "More like a job for Sergeant Whatsisname," the Marine responded with a laugh, and Roger smiled with sudden, wicked amusement. As far as the prince could tell, he'd managed to keep his mentor from figuring out that he'd been looking up some of the ancient poetry Pahner so commonly quoted.

  "Indeed, 'not a prince, nor an earl nor yet a viscount,' " he said with a butter-won't-melt-in-my-mouth expression, and Pahner looked at th
e prince sideways and cocked his head.

  " 'Just a man in khaki kit . . .' " the captain said, ending on a slightly questioning note.

  " 'Who could handle men a bit,' " Roger responded with a chuckle. " 'With his kit bag labelled "Sergeant Whatsisname." ' " His smile grew still broader, then faded a little around the edges. "It doesn't seem to change much, does it, Captain?" he said quietly.

  "No, it doesn't, Sir," the Marine agreed, with a faint smile of his own. "It never does seem to change. And whether you intend to sit it out or not, I think we'll all have to become Sergeant Whatsisname."


  Krindi Fain wasn't certain exactly why he was standing at the front of a milling group of Diasprans in the dawn rain while three of the odd-looking humans discussed something at the far edge of the courtyard. He was sure that it had something to do with that nice human in the tavern, and he could vaguely remember shouting about teaching the Boman to respect Diasprans and the God. Or something like that. There'd been a lot of shouting. And a lot of beer.

  But now, just thinking about the shouting hurt his head. He felt as if someone had wrapped thorns around his horn sockets, and from the yelling in the distance, he was afraid there was more coming his way.

  There hadn't been any shouting when they were first dragged out into the large square by the chuckling temple guardsmen. They'd been counted off into groups and then given a speech by one of the high priests. The priest had explained that they'd all volunteered for the new forces that were going to be fighting the Boman. That they were the bedrock of the army of the God, and that they would wash over the Boman like a wave. That the barbarians would be as sand before the dreadful tide of their righteous wrath.

  Then he'd rattled off the rules under which they would now live. Fortunately for all of the new recruits, keeping track of the punishment for any given offense would be child's play itself . . . since all of the rules ended in "guilty party shall be put to death."

  The three humans finished their conference, and turned his way. Suddenly, they didn't look nearly as friendly as they had the night before.

  * * *

  "God save me for a drunkard and a fool," Julian said, looking at the crowd of Mardukans.

  "You qualify on both counts, Adib." Roger clapped him on the shoulder. "You'll be fine. You've got your notes?"

  "Macek does," the squad leader said. "I'm going to give them a few choice words, then turn them over to Gronningen and Mutabi to wear them out."

  "That'll work," the prince said, and turned to the crowd of young Mardukans. "Listen up! You men—and I use that term lightly—don't know why you're here or what's coming. Some of you think you do, but you're wrong. If you listen to Sergeant Julian here, and the veterans with him, you might just survive the battle with the Boman! If you don't, I guarantee that you'll end up in an unmarked grave, unpitied victims of a contemptible struggle! So pay attention! Follow orders! And may the God defend the right!"

  He glowered at them for a moment longer, then clapped Julian on the shoulder, nodded briskly in the general direction of the thoroughly wretched and confused recruits, and strode off.

  * * *

  Julian considered the group like a farmer picking out just the right chicken for supper. Then he pointed to four of the largest or, in one case, most intelligent looking, of them.

  "You, you, you, and you." He pointed to marks on the square's cobblestones. Next to each mark was a thirty-meter line. "Here, here, here, and here," he said, and propped his hands on his hips, tapping his toe impatiently until he had the four bewildered nascent squad leaders in place. Then he turned to the rest.

  "What the hell are you waiting for? Breakfast?! On the lines, now, now, NOW!"

  Between them, he and Moseyev's Alpha Team got the milling crowd lined up. It happened neither easily, quickly, nor neatly, and Julian favored the more or less formation with a ferocious glare.

  "When I say, 'Fall In,' you will fall in, just like this, on the line, with these four on the marks!" He strode up to the first squad leader and looked him up and down. "Is that any sort of position of attention?!" he screamed.

  "I, uh . . ." Krindi Fain said.

  "When you answer a question, there are three possible answers! They are: ' Yes, Sir!' ' No, Sir!' and ' Clear, Sir!' Is that clear?"

  "Uh, yes," the miserable and hungover Diaspran said. If this little basik didn't quit shouting at him, he was definitely going to have to do something about it. What, he wasn't sure, since one of those rules had covered the penalties for hitting their superiors. He didn't really feel inferior to this basik, but, on the other hand, he didn't want to feel the God's embrace that much.

  "Yes, WHAT?" the human screamed at him.

  "Sir," Gronningen mouthed silently behind Julian's back.

  "Yes, SIR!" Fain shouted as loudly as physically possible, and the Marine noncom glared at him for a moment, then spun in place.

  "Gronningen! Ten Hut!"

  The plasma gunner snapped to attention, and Julian stalked over to him, then turned to face his new recruits again.

  "This is the position of attention. Chest out! Stomach in! Heels together! Hands half-cupped and thumbs along . . ."

  His mouth clicked shut, and he glared at the Mardukans for a moment in despair as his familiar, well-practiced lecture hit a pothole. Normally, it would have been "thumbs along the seam of the trousers." But that assumed that the sentient in question had only two arms, both of which reached to his thighs . . . and that the aforesaid sentient wore trousers.


  " . . . thumbs of the false-hands aligned with the middle of the outer thigh and true-hands aligned above false-hands," Macek supplied instantly, and Julian grunted in approval and strode back over to the poor squad leader-to-be.

  "Got that, four-arms?" He poked the Mardukan in the stomach with his sheathed short sword. The Mardukans had a solar plexus much similar to that of a human, although larger and, if anything, more vulnerable, and the Diaspran partially doubled over, so Julian tapped him on the chin with the hilt of the sword. "Stomach in! Chin back! Chest out! False-hands half-cupped! Thumbs aligned along the thigh! Do it!"

  So Fain did it. And then, without any ceremony or warning, he threw up all over the little basik. He really, really hoped that didn't count as hitting.

  * * *

  Poertena was trying to watch twelve pairs of hands at once, and it just wasn't working.

  The group was too large to play spades, so they'd settled on poker. After some initial wrangling about what kind, they'd further decided on dealer's choice, although the initial decision by Chal Thai to start with five-card stud had been greeted with universal suspicion. The local Mardukan factor, who'd become their most prominent supplier of finished pike and spearheads was infamous for bottom-dealing, palming, and that notorious, Mardukan-only technique, "sticking."

  It didn't seem to affect the quality of the materials he supplied. The perennially friendly merchant had been on time with every shipment, which had been hard in a city as busy as Diaspra.

  The city had been in a night and day fever for the last two weeks. After some token resistance from the senior merchant families, the bulk of the populace, the guilds, and the church had thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the preparations. There was no time to build the kind of armaments the humans would have preferred for the struggle: mobile cannon and flintlocks, as a start. So Pahner, after a series of roundtable discussions, had settled on a modification of their own "Roman" approach.

  Since the Boman—and especially their outriders, like the Wespar tribe—had relatively few arquebuses, designing a force to fight arquebuses would hardly have made sense, anyway. Instead, the army the captain envisioned would be designed to handle the threats it did face: the hail of throwing axes which continued to provide the bulk of the Boman missile assault, and their foot charge.

  The first tier of what O'Casey had dubbed the "New Model Army of Diaspra" would consist of shieldmen armed with assegais, m
ost of whom would come out of the regulars from the surviving Guard of God (and, oh, but the reassigned arquebusiers had been livid about that one!). The second tier would be the pikemen Julian and his henchmen were busy creating out of the recruits from the Laborers of God. Pikes required at least as much discipline but less individual training than assegais would, and just as no one on this planet had ever heard of Roman tactics, none had ever heard of hoplites or classic pike phalanxes. And the third tier would be the civan –mounted cavalry Rastar and Honal were teaching a whole new concept of "combined arms" operations.

  The short assegais required less metalworking than short swords for much the same utility, plus they could be thrown, in a real emergency, and their broad heads had been readily supplied by the smiling merchant who usually had at least four aces stuck somewhere on his body's mucous covering. Chal Thai was also the main supplier for the needle-sharp awl pikeheads, and he was managing—barely—to keep deliveries ahead of the pike shafts being turned out by dozens of small shops throughout the city. Javelins were another matter. There weren't going to be nearly as many of them as Pahner could have wished, but the hand-to-hand weapons were even more important, so he was concentrating on them and the shields to protect the troops using them.

  Those shields were being supplied by the other civilian Mardukan at the table. Med Non had been a minor supplier of custom woodworking and laminated tables until it became apparent that he was the only woodworker in the city with a firm grasp of how to increase production rapidly. Thereafter, he'd become the central manager of the suddenly roaring shield industry in Diaspra. His abrupt elevation and prominence had caused a brief mutiny on the part of one of the larger merchant houses, but Med Non had quashed that quickly by pointing out that none of the changes were going to affect the wealthier merchant's core business, and that his drive to rationalize and speed production gave the other's house many of his own "business secrets," instead. When asked about losing his own business after the emergency was over, he just laughed.

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