This story segment contains scenes of violence and death.
Central Sector, Ox FOB “Madiha’s House”
Panic on the radio. “Ma’am, there’s too many of them out here, they’re coming in from the side-streets, from the main streets, I think they’ve broken through Katura and Koba. Whole platoons, dozens of them! Tanks and artillery moving in. We can’t hold any longer!”
“Retreat slowly back to the Home line with 3rd Corps, but no further than that.”
“Yes ma’am.” He hung up, energized by the idea of a limited retreat. Major Madiha Nakar sighed and put down the radio. She watched the battle unfolding down the road through a telescope from her office. The enemy had indeed broken through to Home.
A kilometer away down the main street, an enemy column had colonized the street corners leading in from Matumaini. She supposed they had filtered through the east and west and moved into Home from those directions to avoid the collapses in the center.
Moving in bounds – stopping in one spot, covering a team until they overtook you, then moving when that team in turn stopped in one spot – the Nochtish men made rapid gains along the end of the street, surging forward almost 300 meters closer to the FOB. There was a platoon of men along each side of the street, a hundred souls; behind them there were two more platoons starting to move. A company at time, coming for her head.
Her defensive line in the center was not a meticulous defense in depth. There was one line of sandbags with three machine guns and three anti-tank guns. Two Hobgoblins waited around the street corners near the school building everyone affectionately called “Madiha’s House.” There was a battalion of soldiers, each company stationed in tall buildings along the end of the street. And there was a hell of a lot of a gunfire flying down at the enemy.
All along the front of the school building, muzzle flashes went off like orange sparklers, guns firing continuously, changing crews every couple minutes to sustain the rate of fire. Machine gun fire streaked from the defensive line and the nearby buildings. Rifles cracked slow and steady in their rhythm. It was a wall of metal, unending volleys roaring down the street. Meanwhile, mortars and 122mm guns manned by the Svechthans cast shots over the school building and smashed the end of the main street a dozen shells at a time.
Smoking pillars rose skyward by the dozen every minute as heavy projectiles impacted the ground, accompanied by a noise like a giant taking a deep breath. Machine gun and rifle bullets fell upon the road in consistent bursts, issuing a continuous cracking noise.
Gunfire was ultimately quite fickle.
An advancing man could survive a mortar shell hitting near him; maybe the angle was off and the fragments flew upward and missed him. Maybe he was hit but not badly enough to stop him. Maybe it just wasn’t his time. Human beings could charge through gunfire, they could be missed by millimeters or centimeters or whole meters by bullets traveling at unfathomable speeds and fired by skilled shooters; gunfire was deceptively impenetrable. Those orange streaks were small and fast and inaccurate. Trajectories varied with elements. An urban environment had thousands of surfaces for a bullet to lodge into.
From her vantage Madiha saw men running as though through fire, walking as though on coals. Bullets lodged into the ground around them, ricocheted off objects near them, seemingly flew by their faces, a curtain of fire tracing the air across the main street for every orange muzzle flash. As if suddenly embraced by spirits men would fall before the fire, over the coals; they would spread their arms and fall aback or fold over on their bellies. They would lose their footing as though they had only slipped on a paper, or fall on their knees as though praying. Then the light of life would leave them and they would die.
But the column did not stop. There was always movement.
A dozen men died and three dozen ducked into cover where they could, and then ran again when they felt the artillery and shots were at their lightest before them.
Scattered enemy troops got within 500 meters of the line, leaving behind dozens dead.
“Madiha! We got a call from the ARG-2 in the north; we’ve got air incoming!”
Madiha pulled herself from the telescope.
Behind her, Parinita, short of breath and sweating, stood in the middle of the door frame with her clipboard in her hand, squeezing the object with shaking fingers.
“Are we almost done destroying evidence?” Madiha asked. Parinita nodded her head.
“Yes, we’ve torn up everything that didn’t have archive priority. We’ve got the rest on a half-track heading north under Kimani’s watch. We don’t have an FOB picked out yet–”
“We don’t need one.” Madiha said. “We can coordinate everything from the truck.”
“Our planes are taking off as well. But they will not reach before Nocht’s aircraft.”
Madiha nodded. She returned to the telescope. Their second company was joining in–
Parinita took her by the shoulder and she pulled her a step back from the window.
“We have to go too. This building is too exposed now. We don’t even have barrage balloons over it anymore.” She said. She looked at Madiha with concern.
Madiha smiled. Parinita; always looking out for her.
“I agree. No protest here, Parinita.”
She did not invent an excuse to stay. She did not need to.
Though the attack was larger than she imagined it would be, and proceeding all along the front in a scale greater than she imagined, none of what she saw through the telescope gave her any reason to change the course that she had planned since before the battle.
“Just one thing. How soon until our guardian angel arrives?” Madiha asked.
“Seas are fairly calm, so she should be here within a few hours.” Parinita replied.
Madiha shouldered the backpack radio they had been using to communicate periodically with their units, strapping it on. Parinita pulled out the little hand-drawn calendar she had made of the battles, and clipped it to her clipboard. These final effects collected, they rushed downstairs, shutting the door for the last time on their shared office in “Madiha’s House,” Bada Aso. It had withstood so much in this terrible battle.
Soon it would be time to put it to its final rest.