Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars - Chapter 15 – Things Get Hotter



Chapter 15 – Things Get Hotter 
Our station was laid out as follows; the first room was the office area where we conducted business with the locals as well as business pertaining to our forces. Then a barracks, jail, and infirmary. As I had wounded men from both sides of the conflict on my hands, I had to figure out what to do with them. The city guards were severely beaten, but had no life threatening injuries, so I placed them in the barracks. The rioters had some critically injured among them, so they were located in the infirmary.

Miss Linton had her hands full attending all of these men, so I sent out for Martian physicians. I was able to obtain help from to doctors in private practice, but no one from the government facilities would offer aid. As the guards would not accept aid from the Martian doctors, Miss Linton, with the aid of two burly privates, administered to their hurts. The Martian physicians attended the civilian wounded, with some supervision by Miss Linton.

After a few days all of the city guard were discharged (without their weapons) and escorted back to the Mayor’s office. The lightly wounded civilians were also released, but those with more serious injuries were retained. With the diligent work of the Martian doctors and Miss Linton, these men were ‘put to right’ in short order.

In the city, tensions were ever increasing. Reytik issued an edict banning groups larger than five men from gathering on the streets. The guards were traveling in groups of three or more. They were also carrying more weapons than normal. To make matters worse, the guards were flexing their muscles and generally being a nuisance. This, of course, led to an increase in the clandestine activities of the democracy movement and these activities centered in the area around our station.

As the days passed, I noticed watch towers, similar to ours, popping up all around the government sector of the city. There was also a sharp increase in the number of people brought in for questioning by the city guard. More than a few of those people left the guard stations in worse shape than when they entered. This further increased the tension. I knew things would come to a head soon.

I talked with Professor Linton about the situation.

“I know that the incident outside our station has caused some consternation with the government, but the situation seems to be escalating at a greater pace than one street fight can account for.” I said. “What other factors are widening the rift between the merchant classes and the government?”

“Aside from the guards’ strong arm tactics, Reytik is attacking the merchants’ ability to pursue their livelihood.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Most of the people in the democracy movement work in the food industry, either growing, supplying, or preparing foodstuffs for consumption. Reytik has been placing tariffs and taxes on all of these businesses in the hopes that it will force them back in line with the government.” She said.

“But won’t the government’s faction be affected as well?” I asked.

“Reytik is importing food for his supporters, so the retailers are being hit twice, losing business and increased taxes.” She said.

“And this has had a unifying effect on the democracy movement.” I said. “But they cannot be in any way prepared to start an all out rebellion.”

“No, they are not.” Miss Linton replied. “However, Reytik is going to push them until they either give up or they rebel, in which case, Reytik will crush them. Unfortunately, I believe that the partial success of the rioters has emboldened the more radical elements of the movement and they may act rashly”

“That could destroy the entire movement if it goes badly.” I said. “Is there any way to dissuade them from such a course of action?”

“We can try.” She said. “But I think you should consider strengthening the station in town and preparing the remaining troops for battle.”

“I believe I shall, thank you Miss Linton.” I said.

I knew if things came to a head that our station would be the target of an attack by the government forces. So I ordered the station reinforced in a manner that would not be obvious to those on the outside. I did not wish to provoke Reytik with preparations for war. I also billeted two platoons at the station at all times along with the two Colt machine guns. At the fort, I increased the watch and kept the remaining artillery ready to move at all times. The two telegraphs were manned at all times and contact was maintained on an hourly basis. I made my command center in the station in town and left Lieutenant Ballard in command of the fort.

With our preparations made, all that was left to do was wait. The civil unrest increased over the weeks, thought the scale of the altercations was much smaller and unorganized. The city guards were still manhandling innocent civilians while the democracy movement fighters were sniping at the guards. For the most part injuries to both parties were minor, but it was obvious that it would not be long before the attacks became more lethal.

It finally happened when a small group of city guards were assaulting a female shop keeper a few blocks from our station. Several men ran to the young woman’s aid and engaged the guards in hand to hand combat. During the altercation, some of the guards drew pistols and shot two of the civilians down. They then overpowered the remaining male civilians and redoubled their attack on the woman. My man in the watchtower, seeing the whole scene unfold, took aim upon the guards’ leader and shot him dead. At the same time another group of armed civilians appeared. More shots were exchanged, between the civilians and the guards before the guards retired. It the end, four civilians were wounded, one critically, and one guard was dead. I could not determine if any of the guards that escaped were hurt. The young lady was scared and bruised, but received no major physical damage.

This was the first time that the fairer sex was involved in the feuding and I headed toward Reytik’s office to register a protest. I lead five men and Professor Edgren down the street toward the government quarter. The streets were abuzz with outraged citizens. On the way we encountered several civilians pleading for us to put a stop to the guards’ indiscretions. I assured them that we would do all in our power to bring about peace.

As we rounded the corner the air was rent by a massive explosion. We were thrown to the ground by the concussion of the blast as smoke and debris flew past. I laid in the street stunned for a few minutes. Once I recovered, I staggered to my feet and checked on the rest of my group. I found that no one was injured, so we pushed on to the Mayor’s office.

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