Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 26 – Arrival At Ceraunius

Chapter 26 – Arrival At Ceraunius

We continued on to Ceraunius, leaving the horrific scene of carnage behind us. We did not tout our action as a victory, because our enemy never really had a chance. We caught up with two more columns that day and treated them in a similar manner. The results of these two engagements were not as complete as the first, however. This was because these columns were already on the move and I do not believe the men’s hearts were in it as much as in the first attack. Still, we achieved the desired results. The dust clouds heading for the city dissipated for a bit and when they appeared again, they were moving in the opposite direction.

By late afternoon, the city of Ceraunius appeared on the horizon. A haze enveloped the city, but at this range, we could not determine the cause. As we closed on the city and the sky darkened, it became evident that several areas of the city were on fire. Ironically, the fires gave me hope that our men were still at their posts. We increased our elevation so that we might better determine where the fires were burning. From the greater height and with the aid of the captain’s glass, we determined that the post in town was surrounded by fires. There were no fires near the fort, but this was explained by the fact that the fort was outside of town.

“It looks like Borlak and his associates are getting the worst of this conflict.” Kumlik said.

“Alas, but I believe you are correct.” I said. “We will definitely have our work cut out for us rebuilding once we are rid of Reytik.”

“You are confident in victory, then?” said Jordak.

“Oh yes.” I said. “We will not be denied. My men have held out this long. Our arrival will initiate the beginning of our offensive. If Reytik’s army is made up of the tribes we engaged today, a surprise aerial assault and a determined push from the ground will dislodge his troops.”

“So, what is your plan then?” Jordak asked.

I explained, “We will arrive at Ceraunius after dark. Then we will pass high over the city to ascertain the enemy troop positions. I suspect that the noise of battle will cover the sounds of our engines and the darkness will conceal our movements. Once we have completed our reconnaissance, we will drop down briefly over the fort and deliver to them our plans for the morning.”

With that, we lowered our altitude so as not to attract attention. Soon we were enveloped in darkness, with the eerie glow of the burning city highlighting our destination. I had the ship cleared for action, in case we were discovered. I then spoke briefly to the men, explaining the importance of secrecy in our maneuvers so as not to spoil the element of surprise for the battle in the morning. As we approached the city, we gained altitude again. Our plan was to be low enough to determine the situation on the ground while being high enough to remain uhad been detected.

The outskirts of Ceraunius appeared dark and quiet. This was the housing for local farmers,
and while they were generally against the government, they were not troublemakers and so were left alone. As we penetrated deeper into town, we began to see buildings glowing dully. These had been burned out days before. Ahead of us we could see newly lighted conflagrations, marking the advance of the government’s troops.

Next we passed over the central part of the city. This was the government sector. It was well lighted, but by their light globes not building fires. The scene below appeared somber yet determined.

I turned to Chronto and said, “It looks as though things have not been as easy as Reytik expected.”

“No, but fighting an insurgency is never as easy as expected. The bright lights below signify that Borlak’s agents are causing problems for Reytik and his men.”

“Why is fighting Insurgents so difficult?” Professor Edgren asked.

“For one thing,” I said “you cannot recognize your foe. They look like the common people”

“Also, the battlefield is not conventional.” Chronto said. “While Borlak has defined defensive lines, his troops can attack anywhere in Reytik’s area.”

As we looked over the city, an explosion occurred on the edge of the lighted area defining the government sector. We saw a building collapse into flames, then Reytik’s soldiers running about, shooting wildly. We could also see flashes in the dark where the pro-democracy men were shooting back.

“As I said, Borlak’s men can strike anywhere.” Chronto commented.

“Let us move toward our outpost and fort, so that we can begin to formulate a plan of attack.” I suggested.

With that, we continued on our mission. As we crossed the merchant sector, we could see that the damage to this part of the city was extensive. Here, fires blazed hotly within the rubble of recently demolished buildings. As we came up to our station in town, we could see that the surrounding buildings had been leveled but not set alight.

“Why are not the buildings here burning?” Professor Edgren asked.

“The Flames and smoke would obstruct the field of fire towards our station.” I said. “Also, any attacks would be funneled through a narrow corridor which could be easily defended by our men.”
“I see.” Said the Professor.

We passed over our station and saw only a faint glow within the courtyard of the compound. Everywhere else in the area was cloaked in utter darkness. I knew that there would be lookouts on each of the corner buildings and the watchtower. Hoping to hear any sounds of enemy movement. Expecting to see anything in the blackness of the Martian night seemed to be folly.

Next, we made our way to our fort. It too was blacked out. Around the fort, well out of the range of the Gatling gun were small fires. These marked the camps of the besieging forces. The ring was fairly complete outside of town. However, we could not determine the situation where the besiegers would be in town.

Chronto, Lieutenant Griffin, and I surveyed the situation, then we rose high into the air so that we would ensure secrecy.

“They appear thinnest opposite town.” Griffin said.

“Yes,” I said, “That would appear to be the best place to break the line. But we need to do more than just break the line. How long is it before dawn?”

“Three hours.” Chronto said.

“I do not think we have time to set down and scout enemy lines.” I said.

“Not and have time to make any sort of plan.” Chronto said.

“Very well.” I said. “Let us set down to the south of the fort, behind the siege lines and disembark the men, except those that will man the Gatling and the Martian artillery. As the sun comes over the horizon, we will mount an aerial assault on the east side of the enemy lines. With this attack, I hope to draw in troops from the south flank as well as some out of the city. After our first pass from the east, we’ll turn to the south and hit the line there. At that point, we will follow the enemy lines back around to the east, to create as much confusion as possible. As we turn back to the east, Chronto, you and Mister Griffin will lead the troops into the backs of the blockading force and punch through to the fort.”

“Then what?” asked Lieutenant Griffin.
“Then we sweep away the rest of the besieging force.” I said. “After that, we relieve the station.”

“That is an ambitious plan, Mr. Roosevelt.” Chronto said.

“Ambitious perhaps,” I said, “but not wholly unrealistic. It is my belief that the besieging force is made up of the desert tribesmen we’ve already met. So the combination of an aerial attack and ground assault will drive them off fairly quickly, especially with the added support from the fort. It is the enemy troops within the city that are the major concern. They will be of higher quality and fighting from cover.”

“Your reasoning is sound, Mr. Roosevelt.” Chronto said. “But a street fight, even for the short distance to your station will cost you many more men than you can afford to lose.”

“That,” I said, “is my major concern. We must reach the station as well. If nothing more than to evacuate the men and unite our forces. It may require us cutting a path of utter destruction through to the station. I do not wish to take that course, but it may be our only option.”

“With luck,” said Lieutenant Griffin, “Borlak will deduce our plan and render us good service.”

“He has been a good friend for us,” I said, “but our plan cannot rely on that now. I am sure he will do what he can, but we must only count on what we know we have.”

With that, I wrote out our plans and tied the note to a stone so that it could be dropped into the fort. I called up Sargent Walter Cash, a minor league pitcher before joining up, to do the honors of delivering the message. We were heading south and dropped down over the fort with the engines off, so as to make as little noise as possible.

“Drop it into the center of the courtyard.” I said.

“No problem, sir.” Cash replied.

As we passed over the fort, Sgt. Cash let fly the stone. We then rose abruptly, but could still make out the crack of the stone hitting the gravel in the courtyard. This was followed by a flurry of activity as we spotted men moving around the area with the Martian light globes. Before we hurried south to disembark the men, I saw one of our men taking up an object from the ground and calling the others over to examine it.

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