March to the sea im 2, p.33

March To The Sea im-2, page 33

 part  #2 of  Imperial March Series


March To The Sea im-2

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  "And if there aren't sufficient materials here in K'Vaern's Cove," Roger added, "cutting the needed timber upriver from the city would require a military covering force to keep the Boman off the woodcutters, and managing that would be almost as difficult as taking and holding D'Sley in the first place."

  "Let me make one thing clear," Pahner said. "In my opinion, there's no way to face the Boman with Marines and Northern cavalry alone. Any kind of confrontation in the field would require the backing, at the absolute minimum, of the K'Vaern's Cove Guard and everyone we could pry loose from their Navy, and that would be a dangerously slim field army, with virtually no margin for any sort of losses. It would take a fully mobilized citizenry to field the much larger army Rus is talking about building, and, frankly, even that would be none too heavy a force to go up against someone as tough as the main Boman horde sounds to be."

  "We actually put it that way in our conversation with Sam Tre and Fullea Li'it," O'Casey said. "No support without a fully mobilized citizenry."

  "You think we could take them . . . if we had to, that is?" Roger asked.

  "With artillery and breech-loading percussion cap rifles added to the pike and assegai regiments?" Pahner nodded. "Yes."

  "Excuse me, Sir," Kosutic said, "but are you suggesting that we stay and fight?"

  "I'm suggesting that we consider it," the CO said. "Tratan, what do you think?"

  "Fight." The Mardukan shrugged. "You need the willing support of the K'Vaernians to build your ships, and their construction requires materials that are on the other side of the Bay, underneath the Boman. Also, I think kicking their barb asses would be a good idea on general principles."


  "Fight, Sir," the Pinopan said. "We need tee pocking timber."

  "Sergeant Despreaux?"

  "Fight, Sir," the NCO responded. "We're going to be here, either way you look at it, when the Cove goes head-to-head with them. However it looks now, I don't think we'd get away with sailing off into the sunset then."


  "Fight, Sir. All the other reasons, and I've developed a real case of the ass about barbs, Sir."

  "Let's cut this short. Anyone against?"

  "Not against, really," Kosutic said, "but the troops are getting worn close to the ragged, Captain. Nothing against the boys and girls, but we saw a lot of overreaction in Diaspra. It's something to keep an eye on."

  "Noted," the CO said. "But that's not an objection?"

  "No, Sir," the sergeant major said, and the captain leaned back on his pillows and looked around.

  "All right. If the Council can build a consensus for all-out war against the Boman, elements of the Empress' Own will participate as cadre trainers and advisers in return for full-scale support in building a fleet of fast, blue-water ships. Preproduction of the ships should begin at the earliest possible moment."

  "We need intel," Roger said. "We don't really know what the barbs' main force is doing. We think it's sitting in Sindi, but we don't really know that for sure."

  "Absolutely," Pahner agreed. "And when we know where it is, we'll start to plan. Right now, however, the basic plan is to start from D'Sley. Retaking that will be the first step however the intel stacks up; after that we can work the rest out."

  "Recon teams?" the sergeant major asked.

  "Yes. Use Second Squad and send Gunny Jin out to coordinate it. Keep Despreaux here, though; we need her to work with the alchemists." Pahner leaned back and his eyes went unfocused. "And add shovels to that list of vital materials."

  "And maps," Roger said. "And axes. And we probably need to get Poertena or Julian involved with Rus and Bistem Kar to be sure their projected numbers for raw materials are accurate. No offense, Rus, but we're talking about a production scale like nothing that's ever been done around here before."

  "No offense taken, Your Highness," the Diaspran assured him. "Having someone double-check our estimates would make both of us feel much better, actually."

  "A thousand and one questions, people," Pahner said, picking up his pad. "Including how to get the K'Vaernian in the street solidly behind the war. We need them all answered. Sergeant Major, get the reconnaissance out. Don't just use the squad. There's too much area to cover, so use local woodsmen and some of Rastar's cavalry, too, and pass out all the communicators you can scrounge. Eleanora, get to work on a propaganda program to get these K'Vaern's Cove people fighting mad. Poertena, we need you on the ships, so that leaves you, Julian, as our premier armorer."

  "Joy," the NCO said with a grin.

  "That's 'Joy, Sir,' " the captain told him, eyes on his pad as he entered notes. "Look over the materials numbers and production estimates with Rus, then work with Rus and this Dell Mir on designs. I suggest that you get His Highness involved in that, as well, and I'll be looking over both of your shoulders."

  He made another entry on his pad, then looked up and raised an eyebrow.

  "Why are you all still sitting here?" he asked mildly, and various people found themselves pushing to their feet almost before they realized they were moving. The Marine smiled wryly as they began filing out, but then he raised one hand.

  "Stay a moment, Roger," he said.

  "Have you been naughty again?" Julian whispered as he passed the prince on his way to the door. Roger only smiled and shook his head, then walked back to the company commander.

  "Yes, Captain?"

  "Sit down," Pahner said, pouring a cup of wine. "I want to discuss a couple of things with you."

  Roger accepted the wine warily.

  "I made up with Despreaux . . . sort of," he said. "Or, I think I have, at least. In a way. Kind of."

  "That's not the point of this discussion," Pahner told him with a frown, "although we do need to discuss that sometime, too. But this is a 'professional development' counseling session."

  "Professional development as a prince?" Roger asked with a grin. "Or as a Marine."

  "Both," the captain said, and Roger's grin faded as the Marine's somber expression registered. "I want to talk you about your actions since . . . Marshad, basically."

  "I've been holding up my end," Roger said in a quieter voice. "I . . . think I've even gotten most of the troops to like me."

  "Oh, you've done that, all right," Pahner said. "In fact, you're a fine leader, from an officer point of view. You don't undercut your NCOs, you lead from the front, all that stuff. But one of those good qualities is also a hell of a problem."

  "Would that be leading from the front?" Roger asked.

  "In a way." Pahner took a sip of his wine. "Let me tell you a little story. Call it 'This Is No Shit,' since it's a space story. Once upon a time, there was a Marine sergeant. He'd seen a few engagements, but one day he did a drop on a planet after a pirate raid had been through."

  The captain took another, much deeper sip of wine, and Roger suddenly realized he'd never seen the Marine really drink. Until today.

  "It wasn't pleasant. I think Despreaux talked to you once about coming in behind pirates. We seem to do it too often, and you only have to do it once to get real excited about pirate hunting.

  "So, after that, the sergeant in our little story did just that—he got real excited about pirate hunting. In fact, the sergeant got so excited that one time he took a bunch of buddies and raided a ship that they just knew was a pirate at a neutral station.

  "And it was one—a pirate, that is. But so, it turned out, were about half the spacestation's permanent personnel, and the cruiser the sergeant and his buddies were assigned to ended up having to fight its way off the station and nearly took a shitload of casualties. All because a sergeant couldn't figure out when it was appropriate to go hunting pirates, and when it wasn't."

  Roger watched the captain take yet another drink of wine.

  "What happened to the sergeant?"

  "Well, all sorts of things went wrong at that spacestation. Among other things, the commander of the cruiser hadn't really been supposed to dock there in the first pla
ce. So nothing, officially, happened to the sergeant. But it took him a while to make gunny. Quite a while. And even longer to make captain."

  "So I should quit chasing barbs," Roger said flatly.

  "Yep," the captain said. "There's too many of them for the few you kill to matter a hill of beans. And when you're killing barbs, Cord and the platoon are trying to keep you alive . . . and having a damned hard time of it.

  "But that's not all I'm getting at, either. Another reason that sergeant went on a private expedition was that he'd been on combat ops too long. After a point, you start trying too hard, not caring about what happens, whether you live or die. I think most of the platoon is there right now, Roger. That's what the Smaj was getting at a few minutes ago. But, frankly, son, you're showing the worst signs of all."

  "And I'm the worst one to be showing them," Roger said very quietly.

  "Yep," the Marine said again. "Want to talk about it?"

  "Not if I can avoid it." Roger sipped his own wine and was silent for several seconds. Then he shrugged minutely. "Let's just say that I feel somewhat responsible for the entire situation."

  "Let's just say that you feel very responsible for the situation," the captain told him. "Which is bullshit, but telling you that doesn't help, does it? And now you see the Marines as people—your people—and even the new, native troops to an extent, and every one of them you lose is like a piece of skin ripped off your body."

  "Yeah," Roger half-whispered, peering down into his wine.

  "Didn't they have a class about that—several, actually—at the Academy?"

  "Yes, Captain, they did. But I'm afraid I didn't pay as much attention as I should have," the prince answered, "and I'm having a difficult time applying the lessons."

  "I'm not surprised," the Marine told him almost gently, and Roger looked up quickly. Pahner smiled at him. "Roger, don't take this wrong, but part of the problem is that at heart, you're a barbarian yourself."

  "I'm what?" Roger blinked in surprise.

  "A barbarian," Pahner told him. "Mind you, being a barbarian isn't always such a terrible thing. There are barbarians . . . and barbarians, you know, and you don't have to be a butchering maniac like the Kranolta or the Boman to have what the Empire thinks of as 'barbarian' qualities. Just like some of the most 'civilized' people you're ever going to meet would cut your throat for a decicred if they thought they could get away with it. The thing is, the Empire has gone all civilized these days, and the qualities of a barbarian warrior aren't exactly the ones your lady mother's better classes of subjects want to see when they invite someone over for a high tea. But the qualities the people at those teas denigrate as barbaric are the ones the soldiers who keep them safe have to have. Courage, determination, discipline, loyalty, passion for your beliefs, and the willingness to lay it all on the line—and lose it, if you have to—out of a concept of honor and responsibility, rather than looking for compromise and consensus because 'violence never settled anything.' The military has always been out of step with the mainstream culture in most wealthy societies which enshrine individual liberty and freedom, Roger. It has to be, because those sorts of societies don't have the natural 'antibodies' against foreign and domestic enemies that more militaristic ones do. By and large, I think that's a very good thing, even if I do sometimes wind up thinking that most civilians are over-protected, under-educated drones. But the reason I think of them that way is that I'm a barbarian by their standards, and they keep me around because they need someone with barbaric qualities to keep them safe in their beds at night. I don't imagine you ever really realized that you had those qualities, too, before we hit Marduk, and I hope you won't be offended if I say that no one else realized that either. Except for Cord, maybe."

  The captain sipped from his cup once again, his expression thoughtful.

  "I hadn't really thought about it before, but you and he are almost mirror images, in a way. You come from the most protected place in the most powerful and civilized empire in the known galaxy, and at the moment you find yourself on a barbarian planet at the ass end of nowhere, and in some ways it's like you were born to be here. Cord comes from a bunch of ragged ass barbarians in the middle of a godforsaken jungle full of flar-ke, atul-grak, and killerpillars, but he was educated at Voitan, and there's a sage and a philosopher down inside him, as well. There's some sort of weird resonance there, one I don't imagine anyone outside the two of you really understands, but it's certainly real. Maybe that resonance is why he slipped so easily into the mentor role for you. Or maybe it was just that, unlike any of the rest of us, he had no preconceptions where you were concerned, which let him see you more clearly than the rest of us did.

  "But whatever it is, Roger, you need to be aware of what you really are. You can't afford not to be, because of who you are. I'm not just talking about the situation we're in here on Marduk and your place in the chain of command, either. You're the Heir Tertiary to the Throne, and somehow I don't think you're just going to fade into the woodwork again when we get you home. But you're going to be up against some operators who are used to manipulating people with a lot more life experience than you have, and if they have a better read than you do on who you are and how you think, you're screwed."

  "I don't guess I ever thought that far ahead," Roger said slowly.

  "I'd be surprised if you had. However you got here, you're in the position that every junior officer worth a flying fuck finds himself in sooner or later, Roger. To work with your troops, you almost have to love them. If you don't give a damn about them, that comes across, and not caring is like an acid that corrodes whatever you have inside that's worth keeping. But you also have to be willing to let them go. People die, son. Especially Marines, because we're the ones who volunteer to be at the sharp end of the stick. That's what we do, and sometimes we crap out, and sometimes the mission means that we have to die or, worse, we have to let our people die . . . or choose which of them are going someplace we know some of them won't be coming back from and which of them aren't buying a ticket this time. Either way, Roger, when it's time, it's time."

  Roger crossed his arms and looked away, his mouth a stubborn line, and despite his own sincerity the captain almost laughed at how hard the onetime royal brat was fighting against accepting what he knew was true. There was nothing at all humorous about it of course, and Roger would never have forgiven him for even the driest chuckle, yet the irony was almost overwhelming as the captain reflected on how the mighty had fallen . . . and how much Roger had discovered that losing his people hurt.

  "Roger, here's the bottom line. If you stick yourself out on a limb, everybody else climbs out there with you, and now it's less because they have to than because they want to follow you into whatever desperate situation you've managed to find. There are times when that's good, but only when things are already desperate. So quit climbing out on the limb, okay? It might make you feel a little better, because you're sharing the danger, but it just gets more troops killed in the end."


  "For what it's worth, you seem to be a natural born leader, and it's not just your hair. The Marines are bad enough, but the Diasprans seem to think you shit gold. It's an unusual commander who can cross species like that. I can't. They respect my judgment, but they don't think I walk on water."

  Roger inhaled deeply, then nodded.

  "So what you're saying is that if I go out and do something stupid, it's not just the Marines I'll imperil."

  "No, it isn't," the captain agreed. "So start letting other people take point, all right? We all know you care, so put down the rifle."

  "Okay," the prince said again, then met the Marine's eye. "How does this affect my command?"

  "Like I said before, it's going to be a reserve. If I need you, I'll use you, and you'll go out with the scouts if everything works out right. But behind the scouts, right?"

  "Right," Roger said. "Behind the scouts."

  "Take care, Your Highness," Pahner said, nodding in dismissal, a
nd Roger set aside his wine and rose.

  "Good night, Captain."


  "It worked," Wes Til said as he swept into the room, and Turl Kam looked up from the letter he was drafting.

  "They agreed?"

  "They're willing to agree, with some tremendous qualifiers—the most serious of which is that we have to demonstrate our willingness to fight a 'war to the knife,' as Prince Roger puts it. He seems awfully fond of that phrase . . . I wonder if it could be the motto of his House?" The councilor thought for a moment, then made a throwing-away gesture. "At any rate, that's what they demand—that we throw the entire power of the city into the war. No faction fighting, no politicization of the commands, and no graft."

  "That won't be simple," Kam said, sitting back. "To get agreements, we're going to have to make promises, give favorable contracts, that sort of thing."

  "As long as it doesn't have any negative effects, I think anything goes." Til sat on a cushion. "They also require us to throw our support behind building these ships of theirs. They want them completed while the campaign is actually underway."

  "Where do they expect us to get the materials?" the Council chairman demanded in exasperation.

  "Well, they've already said that the first stage has to be the retaking of D'Sley to use as a base, so the materials will be available. And let's be honest, Turl. Sure, materials are tight here in the Cove, but they're not as tight as we've been telling them. The Navy is still sitting on its minimum stockpiles, and if the Council officially agrees to help build their ships, you and I can pry at least the keels and ribs out of old Admiral Gusahm if we have to."

  Kam grabbed his horns and pulled at them.

  "Krin! I hate trying to get things out of Gusahm. He seems to think he invented the entire concept of navies and that everything that floats is his own private property!"

  The chairman stared into space, trying to suppress a shudder as he pictured the looming confrontation with Gusahm, yet he knew Til was right. Eventually, Gusahm would yield, however gracelessly, to the direct orders of his civilian superiors. The real problem was going to be lining up the political support to meet the rest of the humans' demands.

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