This scene contains violence and death.
City of Rangda, Streets of Northeast Rangda
So strong was Lieutenant Munira’s voice that bad audio did nothing to diminish her cry.
“Comrades, we are taking Umaru park! After the initial salvo, we charge! Show no fear to the craven enemy! We have the utmost superiority over them, tactically and morally!”
On nearby vehicles, Adesh saw fists raised into the air in excitement, and heard shouts.
That necessary salvo mentioned by the Lieutenant would end up being the responsibility of the Chimera self-propelled guns. No other artillery was ready to deploy. Adesh peeked his head around the sloped armor of the gun casemate, scanning his surroundings.
Slow and steady, their Chimera was in motion. Their three-gun unit of Chimeras trailed behind a large column of soldiers on motorcycles and on foot. More Chimeras followed, but the bulk of the column was composed of sleek motorcycles. Some of the motorcycles towed mortars behind them, and lagged along the edges of the column, while others had Khroda machine guns affixed to the side-car that they could shoot. Those had proven useful in the last roadblock, which had been budged aside with minimal effort of the column. Now they were slightly uphill from their next objective, which was in sight.
Atop the hill, the Chimeras halted. They were not that high above the target. Ahead of them the road descended maybe a dozen meters and expanded around a small woodland park. Ditches had been cut around the park to prevent the entry of tanks, and a triangle formation of trenches chock-full of men and women defending the approaches. Machine guns and mortars were visible in special mesh-netted foxholes behind the trenches.
Umaru was the hinge between Rangda University and Forest Park, directly connected to the main avenues and roadways running along Northern and Eastern Rangda. Adesh understood as much just from looking at the map. His eyes naturally drew a line between each of the main, circled objectives, forming a triangle. One of the triangle’s sides ran right through Umaru. It was a prime spot to support attacks on the two linked areas.
As the column reorganized in preparation for the attack, all of the men in ordinary motorcycles dismounted them and hid them in buildings and around alleys. Only the motorcycles with machine gun sidecars remained mounted. Mortar-carrying bikes were parked near the Chimeras, and their tubes were deployed by the riders and passengers.
There were at least fifty or sixty men and women from the few dozen ordinary bikes who were loading up with weapons and ammunition and making preparations to fight on foot.
“Can’t they fight in their bikes? Wouldn’t it be safer?” Adesh asked.
“Too exposed.” Nnenia replied, in her trademark fashion.
“She’s right.” Eshe said. “They don’t have any armor on those things, and no matter how fast they go they could run into gunfire and die if they don’t have cover or armor.”
“Makes sense.” Adesh said. He felt stupid for asking.
Behind the three of them, Sergeant Rahani sat against the rear armor, whistling.
“How are you holding up?” He asked.
“Me?” Adesh asked back.
“Yes, you.” Rahani said. He smiled. “You look concerned.”
Adesh scratched his hair. “I recall that we’re not supposed to fight from atop hills.”
This was not his chief concern, though it was written in their fighting manuals that they should use the sides of hills for cover and not fight directly atop them. Doing so would expose them to enemy artillery and air attacks. Higher elevation had to be used sparingly.
Sergeant Rahani giggled.
“We’re in an urban environment, so unfortunately the hillsides are all occupied by buildings. We can’t really fight well in the blocks, so we have to stick to the roads.”
He reached out and patted Adesh on the side.
Adesh thought that the Sergeant must have known something else was bothering him, but he did not pry, and Adesh was thankful for it. In reality, Adesh’s concerns were greater than what could be covered by a tactical manual. Rolling in his head was a mixture of anger and guilt and trepidation and shock all of which individually fed into the others.
Above all, he wanted to believe in Colonel Nakar. She was a hero; she was their hero!
He wanted to believe in his friends too. He wanted to protect them, to be with them.
He supposed that the 8th Division had their own heroes who they followed, too, and their own friends they needed to protect. It was easier to see this with them than with Nocht.
To him Nocht were demons; thinking of them summoned an anger and a fear quite different from what he felt for the 8th Division. Nocht were not human. But the 8th Division were his own people and he was so confused, so torn. It was hard to deal with.
Looking around himself he saw Nnenia’s stoic affect, Rahani’s warmth and Eshe’s gallant confidence and he wondered if they were torn up inside too. He did not want to ask them. He did not want to become a burden to them, to trouble them.
Instead he kept the turmoil inside, and faced forward again.
Lieutenant Munira came on the radio.
“We will begin with a twenty-gun salute to our wayward friends! May the light of Diyam deliver them. All Self-Propelled Guns fire a ten-shell rolling barrage on mark!”
Adesh checked his optical equipment. He had instruments to measure distance and orientation of his target, to adjust gun elevation to a fine degree, as well as ordinary sights for direct fire. Using his map, which had been hand-gridded by the artillery section computing team, he adjusted the direction and elevation of the gun to fire on the park. Nnenia turned the wheels and performed the mechanical adjustment; Kufu drove the vehicle as a whole and begrudgingly turned it in the directions Adesh called out.
For the rolling barrage he would shift elevation a set amount after each shot.
Just as he was nearly done with his preparations, the Lieutenant’s voice sounded anew.
“Fire Mission, TRP 68493. Fire for effect! Mark!”
Sergeant Rahani got on his own radio and called the two other Chimeras in the platoon.
Eshe looked at his watch and then helped Nnenia load the gun with a 76mm shell.
Finally Adesh pulled the lever and discharged the ordnance.
He felt the great thundering force of the gun as the shell soared skyward.
Off into the morning sky the red tracer joined over a dozen other shells.
Adesh quickly turned to his long-range periscoping sight.
He laid eyes on the park in time to watch the first shells land on the exterior trenches. In quick succession the individual shells struck the ground with a great clamor. There were terrible fiery flashes, and dust and smoke blew up in front of the trenches, sending sandbags flying and cutting great gouges into the soft soil. It was hard to tell which shell had been his until his brain recalled the exact calculations he had done. Judging by the effects, he had put his shell right on the lower edge of the park, as he had wanted.
Before the smoke could even begin to settle the guns were ready for the second shot.
“You’re doing great, my beautiful crew!” Rahani called out. “Adesh, calculations!”
He was already planning to say it. He knew what to do.
“Shift five degrees up!” Adesh called out.
Nnenia nodded and turned the elevation lever, raising the cannon the few degrees needed, while Eshe loaded the gun. Sergeant Rahani relayed the adjustments to the other guns. It was hectic. For Adesh it felt like everyone was talking at once. Even Nnenia’s panting and Eshe’s grunting vocalizations as he hefted the gun felt like input he needed to hear.
Shutting his eyes and breathing in deep, he tried to focus his thoughts.
Immediately after loading the shell, Eshe checked his watch again.
Almost mindlessly, Adesh pulled the shooting lever. He then looked through the sight.
His own Chimera had been the fastest to reload. Adesh heard his own gun cry out first, almost alone for a second before the rest of the vehicles opened fire. All around him Adesh heard and felt the succession of gun reports from the other vehicles in the battery, stirring in the pit of his stomach. Even the Chimeras far across the street rattled him.
They were twenty in all, all of whom were firing together. It was noisy and rumbling.
Through the sight, Adesh watched the second wave of shells hitting ground. Several of the trenches suffered direct hits, sending pillars of dirt and human debris flying from between the slits in the earth. Small fires trailed through the grass as 76mm shells hit mortar holes and supply pits dug in and around the trenches. Adesh’s own shell crashed through the foremost trench, just a little too far right, collapsing the edges of the hole.
Smoke and fire and dust formed a cloud around Umaru park. Adesh could hardly see green through it anymore. He could hardly see undisturbed ground around the edges of the park. Slowly and methodically they were stomping on every meter of dirt. He saw shadows through the fog, men and women fleeing the trenches for the forest.
He swung his sight up a touch and scanned for new targets. Then he spotted it.
Directly behind that trench was a large, dug-in gun pit getting ready to counter-fire.
It was hidden beneath a camouflage tarp, but with the barrel now poking out the front of the hole and highly elevated, it was clear that this was a 122mm gun, ready to shoot.
One shot from that would kill everyone he loved here.
He felt a thrashing in his heart, but he could not panic. He couldn’t even call a warning.
His mind was working faster than the time around him. He just had to stop the gun.
Knowing where his shot hit in the trench, Adesh quickly calculated hitting the gun pit.
Closing his eyes, he could still see it. Eerily, he thought he knew when it would shoot.
It was as if with his eyes closed a different sense, a powerful sense, took over for them.
Something greater than vision guided him. A strange intuition, working in milliseconds.
He had precious little time left.
“Traverse left, ten degrees, and then three elevation!” Adesh called out. “Hurry!”
“I’m goin’, I’m goin.” Kufu’s irritable voice responded.
At once the Chimera shifted its bulk.
Adesh looked through his angle sights. “Correct traverse, one degree right, Nnenia!”
Nnenia nodded her head. After adjusting the elevation, she used a lever to shift the gun itself. While it was limited to perhaps five degrees in any direction, far less than the range of movement available by moving the vehicle as a whole, the gun’s traverse could be much more quickly and minutely adjusted than the facing of the entire tank. In short order Nnenia had the gun facing exactly where Adesh wanted. Eshe loaded.
He checked his watch and nodded to Adesh. He was the commander, so he had to call the shots, but it was clear that everyone was on top of the action. He didn’t need to shout.
Silently, Adesh pulled the lever and prayed.
Through the sights, he briefly spotted a pair of artillery crew rushing shells out from the woods to the camouflaged gun behind the trench. They had run into the open in time to be crushed by the third barrage of shells, rolling in deeper and deeper into the park.
The shelling now completely bypassed the trenches and began to fall into the wood and around the second tier of defenses. Adesh watched as his shell landed directly atop the dug-in gun before it could fire back at the Chimeras. Multiple detonations followed like the bursts of a firecracker rope. Behind the camouflaged netting and the pit walls the gun’s ammunition was burning and blowing up and belching black smoke into the air.
Those two people Adesh had seen had simply disappeared. Whatever was left with them was buried in the shellholes somewhere. He felt momentarily both sick and glad. But he couldn’t peel himself away. His mind floated up a message, a message he needed to hear.
They were only three shells into a ten shell barrage. He had to complete the fire mission.
Lieutenant Munira needed him to; Nnenia, Eshe and Rahani needed him to.
It was clear to him, however, that when the infantry marched in, they would find little resistance left in Umaru park. He didn’t even need the fourth shell’s hit location to calculate that particular fact. Such was the power of an artillery battery that could run to any location and launch a fire mission fully under its own power. Back at the camps in rural Adjar, when he first learned gunnery, such a thing seemed unimaginable to anyone.
Modern war was falling right over the heads of the antiquated 8th Division.
It brought the guilt, the anger, the stress, and the sheer awe back to Adesh’s mind.
But he resolved to complete the mission. He calculated for that fourth shell.