Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Martin Tells War Stories


This is actually an excerpt from the sequel to Broken Slate, which I'm working on here during the break. Those who have read Broken Slate will appreciate it more, I suspect!

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From Chapter Ten:Naji River, Grand Mountains, North Country

He and Gadi slept away early evening, burrowed under blankets in the rear of the cave. When Martin woke, Gadi was gone. Outside, the party had already begun. Shifting to his back, Martin winced at the impact of the raw spots and the wound on his shoulder on the stony cave floor. His body ached for more sleep. He thought of doing it, just falling back into sleep. Sleeping all night.
Instead, he got up, found his boots, and left the cave. It was broad night, so the only fires were tiny ones, up under tarps. Snow silted steadily down, piling on the slanting cam covers, collecting in drifts against outcrops and brush. Hill cots huddled around fires, drinking smoke laced, if Martin’s sense of smell did not lie, with apple brew.
Kit, on a burr log next to Gadi, smiled. “Starting to believe you’d sleep forever.”
Martin took the bowl of tea one cot held out: hot, strong, burning with brew, just as he had suspected. He drank deep, glancing across the rim at the sprogs around the fire. Though they had been talking as he approached, everyone watched him now: Martin Eduardo, hero of the Revolution. Ever since the Coup, everywhere he went was like this.
“Cutler says you just ran a job?” he said.
The kid who had given him the tea brightened. “Right, down the Rift.” He launched into the story: Lord Fowler in the Rift Valley, a Unionist. “Yago, she’s in his fields, she tells us Fowler’s sending cots up the hill to spy on the network.”
Across the fire, Dodge eyed Martin. Everyone knew about Twain.
If this sprog did, he wasn’t thinking of it. He went cheerily on: “So Yago leads us down, right. I’m on the crew takes the bosses, we bang a wedge in the doors, blow a bolt through the window, shoot any that found a way out. Kit had the house.”
Kit shrugged, her dark face angular in the firelight “No deal there. I took the boss at the gate, Yasin got the one up front, that one inside gave us trouble. He tagged Exeter, bullet to the butt, maybe he’s duck faster next time. That was it. We knew the cots we wanted were house boys,” she added. “But Lord Fowler’s too noble give up his spies, and we ain’t have Veritas or anything like it, so we used hot knives off the cook stove. That opened his teeth.”
Around the fire, cots laughed.
“We sent him down the dorm for them, alongside three of us. Held his wife for hostage.” Kit had a hit of smoke, her eyelids half-lowered. “Bosses in the basement jumped our crew, killed one, yelled up they’d already synced Security, surrender or we’re all for the flagpole.”
Martin grunted. He’d have stormed the target, not tortured the holder. Kill everyone who fought, sort survivors later. He made a sound he hoped would be taken for sympathy.
“What did you do?” Gadi asked when no one went on.
“Shot a fucking plasma rocket down the stairs,” Kit said. “Grabbed what we could and ran. Couple survivors came out a window – Yasin’s on our flank, she got those. One was our spy. We sent him up there by Salih and them, see what they might could get from him.”
By them, Kit meant the Pirians, who had funded a medical complex on Lord Oxford’s land in Kumar Valley. Officially this complex gave medical aid to the free labor and Service class in the area; in fact, as the Lord Kadir’s Unionists bellowed frequently, it gave aid to the hill country network, and not just medical aid either.
“Three dead to catch one spy.” Cutler, returning from running pickets, nudged a cot with the side of his boot to make him move, and sat down in the cleared space. “Not to mention the wounded and the ammunition.”
Kit, who Martin noticed had used the shifting about to move closer to Gadi, said, “We got the shoats, though. Plus all that rice and whiskey, and the peaches.”
“And killed near thirty of them,” someone added.
“Twenty-odd of which,” Cutler said sourly, “were actually us.”
The contract labor killed in the basement, he meant. The sprogs went quiet. Martin leaned forward to tip more smoke into his bowl. “You got back to the hills with most of you walking. Makes it a good job in my bank. Someday, if anyone wants to hear it,” he paused to blow on his tea, “I’ll tell you the worst job I ever ran.”
Eyes slewed toward him, bright in the fire.
“Not the Yardley job,” Cutler said, faintly suspicious.
“Hah, Yardley. Shit, Yardley. Yardley was an End at the beach, son. No, this’s when I’m fresh, me and Dallas, back there at Rocky Point.” He blew on the smoke. “Ain’t either of us know anything, and I knew half what Dallas did, but one issue we’re getting clear on, right fucking quick, is how if we stay under Harper’s boot, we’re yard boys until we rot.”
Cutler was watching him intently, as were the sprogs. Gadi’s eyes narrowed.
Martin smiled. “So we look about, put our mighty intellects to the issue.” Around the fire they laughed. “We decide to show Harper how to fight this Revolution.” More laughter. “Best way to do this, I decide – Dallas is a bit hesitant on the point – we run a job.”
A bit hesitant was putting it mildly. Dallas had called him six types of bent for running a job against Harper’s orders and without Harper’s leave.
“So I get what I think is brilliant luck.” He smiled. “This crew I’m friendly with, up on the Naji River, they take in these runaways from Bennett Mine. Soda,” he added to Cutler.
“Oh, crap,” Cutler said. Around the fire, sprogs groaned.
“These runaways have an idea for a job. Hit their old mine, grab up weapons, burn the coal. And I reckon Soda’s crew and ours, it’s plenty. Frogs in a bucket! How hard can it be?”
Cutler was having trouble getting his breath. “Is this – this – Will knows you did this?”
“You know,” Martin said thoughtfully, “I’m not sure whether I ever exactly mentioned to Will how the Bennett Mine fuck-job was mine.” He drank more smoke. “Anyway. Ida, that’s the crew hook from the mine, she built a few explosives. And Dallas and us, we had three Lopaka long rifles, a couple magazines each.”
Around the fire, moans and curses.
Martin grinned. “I scouted the site. I ain’t know if any of you have been over there by there by Bennett Mine – well, you might of,” he said to Cutler. “Big outcrop cliff, high over the river. The mine’s to the other side. Gravel track to the railway spur, scarp on one side down to the river, tree-line on the other. I’m green enough I think that situation will help us. I’m thinking we’ll put a tree across the road, stop any Security the mine calls in. Cakes and cream.”
“You ain’t have enough fire,” a sprog protested faintly.
“Oddly, that did occur to me. It’s why I brought in Soda. His crew ain’t much better armed, but they do have a couple six rifles. All hard weapons. No one in the hills had plasma then. Deal was, we’d split the take.” Martin put his hand on his chest and made a bow. “I did all the planning. Soda, he’s maybe twenty, and his crew’s raw field cots, even younger. They all thought the plan was brilliant.” He laughed.
All around the fire, the sprogs stared, their dark eyes wide.
Having spoken Soda’s name, Martin found himself remembering the contract he hadn’t thought of in years: skinny, like most runaways, with those reedy orphanage bones, the ash-pale hair that had given him his hill-name drifting loose in his eyes. Martin had always loved smart boys best, and Soda had been so smart, so quick to see Martin was getting at, quick to come up with ideas of his own. His only crime had been ambition, and being far too eager to believe Martin knew what he was doing.
Weary to his center, so tired his chest ached, he thought of not going on. He didn’t want to remember the end of this. Only you couldn’t start a story and not finish it.
“Well, Dallas and I, we took out our crew.” He paused, remembering Liko reaching across the fire to take the rifle from his hand. Liko, who had also always been too ready to believe Martin knew what he was doing. He rubbed his eyes, and then sketched out a quick map in the grit by the fire. “We set up in a triangle around the mine. Here on the road, by the pit, here above the barracks. Soda’s crew along here. Ida went in with her crew here, blew their power grid. I’m so fresh, I thought that would kill their com.”
Next to Gadi, Kit muttered under her breath.
“We ain’t even have handhelds,” he added. “Too stupid to think how we should have some way to communicate between crews. Ida hit the barracks, but the bosses got out, I don’t know how. We’re up on the pit – I am, and Dallas – frogs in a bucket my ass, the bosses shoot Ida, killed her outright. They’ve locked the mining cots in their rack, they’ve got Ida’s crew pinned. I can’t communicate to Soda down on the road, to bring them up behind the bosses, who send half their number up to flank us, now.” Martin paused, his mouth filled with bitter memory. “That’s when I heard the helos coming from Sarito Flats.”
Cutler cursed.
Martin stared down into the fire, into memory. “I sent a messenger running to the road.” They had abandoned Ida’s crew, pinned down against the barracks. Deserted them.
“What happened?” the kid across the fire asked.
Martin shook his head. Behind his eyes: the cold dusk of the forest, the roar of the helos, Security dropping into the trees like giant spiders. The crack of plasma fire in the darkness. Him running with Liko; Liko falling. Diving after him, dragging him to hide among the rocks. Shrill endless screaming from someone in the trees. Liko shivering in terror. Labor Security bursting past, chasing Soda, his young eyes desperate wide. The crack of the rifle, blood and bursting flesh.
He took a breath. “They got all of Soda’s crew. All of Ida’s. Two of ours. We did almost no damage, got no weapons.”
“Burned out Naji Ridge,” Cutler said. “Had every cot in the hills dogged by ’Backs for months. Couldn’t take a piss behind a rock without tripping over Security, not for months after, I remember that.”
Martin poured more smoke. He had lost count of how many bowls this was, but colors and the firelight had gone very lucid. “Redbacks showed up at Rocky Point, too. Harper gave us cover, but we still got kicked around.”
“They ain’t notice your dead?” the kid across the fire asked.
“One of the ways Harper helped. He listed them as being sold down the Islands the summer before. He took my skin off, of course,” he added, “but at least he ain’t give us up.”
“Harper whipped you?” Gadi said uncertainly.
Martin laughed. “Harper ain’t use the stick, not when he’s got his fucking mouth.” He rubbed his ear. He had already been feeling stupid and evil: Harper had made certain he knew just how stupid and evil he was. Do you think this Revolution is a game? Do you think their lives are your toys? I have you down in that yard for a reason, and it is not to oppress you. When you learn to use your thick head, that’s when I’ll give you more responsibility.
He drew another long breath. “So believe me: any job you ain’t clear most of your own crew, go on and feel happy about it.”
They stared at him. No one laughed. He supposed it wasn’t actually funny. He had a long look into his smoke. “This could really use more brew,” he said sadly.


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