Troubled Sky (57.2)

This scene contains violence and death.

Tambwe Dominance, Village of Yarta — Rail Yard

For the workers of the Yarta rail station, it had been a confusing morning.

Preparations for the arrival of a whole Regiment of the 8th Division had consumed the past day and would consume the current, or so they believed as the work day started.

Yarta was a large station, but its star had long faded. Faster routes had been laid farther north of it, and the volume Yarta had to handle had long lessened. That it was to be used at all meant that something had happened at the more modern, more Solstice-administered railways. Nobody knew what that was, but they did not question it. To prepare to bear the burden of thousands of soldiers and their equipment, a lot of work had to be done. There was need to clear out old warehouses and store Regimental stockpiles, to move aside stranded cars and engines to open up lanes of traffic, to restore the tracks to bear the burden of heavy-duty rail and perform thorough maintenance on switches and turntables.

It used to be Yarta station could run just fine with an engineer, a safety officer, a secretary and few interested part-timers who lived off stipends in the village. Now they had to put out an emergency call to the village for dozens of hands. Overnight, a lot of work had been accomplished, and twice as much more would have to be done before the 53rd deadline.

That morning, however, they first received a rare long distance telephone call, warning them to halt all traffic. Everyone stood puzzled around the telephone for about an hour, wondering who to call to confirm this puzzling order. Then the phone rang again, and the Secretary once more picked it up. Now the irate voice, same but also different, told them to prepare for a Battalion of troops coming today instead of a Regiment by tomorrow.

As they scrambled to get the essentials taken care of to house a whole battalion in just ancestors-knew-how-many hours, a second long distance telephone call mysteriously informed them to stay tuned to the national emergency radio. This set of frequencies, operated out of Solstice, was rarely used for Yarta in any significant fashion, and so, amid their hectic work, the station staff left only the Secretary to take care of the radio.

Outside, a crane car labored to pick a damaged coal car that had become stuck on the tracks. Soon as it dropped the car off the track, the radio went off quite loudly.

When the Secretary answered, she was told to clear the tracks immediately.

She ran outside and shouted this, but nobody seemed to believe it.

Her protests were quickly silenced by an overwhelming whistle and a rumbling noise.

Moments later they saw the armored train in the distance.

Everyone scrambled off the tracks and into the station or the warehouses.

The Armored train was headed right for occupied track with reckless abandon.

Like a battering ram, the armored train smashed through the crane car and practically hurled it off the tracks. Barreling past the station, the engine braked harshly, and many of the cars overshot the station — only the brake van aligned with the departure platform, after the train finally stopped. Unceremoniously, a door slid open at the end of the train.

Stepping onto the platform from the train was a woman dressed in a yellow uniform with black highlights, studded with red from her rank insignia and a beret. Twin black ponytails waved behind her in the breeze, tied at the rear sides of her head, just behind her ears, with bright flowing red ribbons. Behind her round spectacles a pair of eyes each a different color, green and blue, coldly appraised the startled station staff from outside the glass doors to the office. The arriving Commissar was a bit short, slender, and her skin a baked brown. She knocked her gloved fist on the door with a cool expression on her face.

“I told you to clear up the tracks! What is wrong with you? We could’ve been killed!”

Her voice was high pitched and a little nasally. At her urging, the station staff allowed her into the managing office. Behind her, the cars of the armored train opened their doors.

Dozens of black and red uniformed KVW troops left their transports. Some went to work on dismantling parts of the train, taking down dummy wooden walls and roofs that seemed more at home on cattle cars, and revealing gun turrets and artillery emplacements beneath. Others dragged out wheeled heavy machine guns and anti-tank guns. Yet more started to climb the station buildings and to rush out with submachine guns in hand to inspect the warehouses. It was a total takeover of the station, by at least a hundred troops.

Amid all the sudden infantry activity it was easy to miss the impressive firepower of the train. One by one the engineers dismantled the fake cars and revealed many weapons. On one of the rearmost cars, facing the incoming lengths of track, a 203mm Howitzer “Vajra” waited for a target. Several cars mounted 76mm turrets that had full rotation. Around the tank turrets were stationary machine guns with shields, and anti-aircraft guns.

One broadside from the armored train could devastate almost any enemy position.

Once inside the office, the KVW commander made herself quite at home. As the staff stared quizzically at her, she walked up to the station manager’s desk, took the chair, and leaned back with her feet up on the desk top. She sighed loudly and then smiled brightly.

“I’m Commissar-General Halani Kuracha.” She said, waving with the tips of her fingers. “My command is the 9th Revolutionary Guards Reconnaissance Battalion ‘ASURA’.”

At the sound of this the station staff looked quite shaken.

“To what do we owe the pleasure?” Asked the station manager.

Kuracha shifted her feet on the desktop, putting the right one atop the left one.

She raised one of her hands skyward as if pointing her index finger at the ceiling.

“You’ve all been incredibly disappointing. Even after receiving instructions from the central government, you continued to aid and supply Rangda’s traitors. I am here to deliver a firm but loving correction.” Kuracha replied, smiling with satisfaction.

At the sound of this the station staff looked utterly distraught.

“Please, Commissar, we’ve been jerked around the past few days like children’s toys, we don’t know anything that has been happening.” the station managed begged.

“That is why the correction will be loving instead of harsh.” Kuracha replied.

She turned her head toward the door with a seeming disinterest in the staff.

Outside, a defensive line formed with the armored train as its center, encompassing a semi-circular projection of guns and metal shields that faced south from Yarta. Soon an infantry officer from the battalion arrived at the station manager’s office and passed through the door. She stood at the side of the desk, looking down at Kuracha with a blank expression. Her rifle was slung over her shoulder and she had a peaked cap on.

“Commissar-General,” she said tentatively.

“Are we all set up?” Kuracha asked.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Do we know when the train is coming?” Kuracha asked.

“No ma’am.”

Kuracha nodded. She turned to the station staff.

“When are the traitors due? I aim to correct them as well. Painfully.”

At once the staff devolved into a generalized shivering.

“I see. Well, you had better find out.” Kuracha demanded.

Radio and telephone calls went out in a panicked flurry.

“Oh! Never mind!”

Kuracha put her feet down from the desk and practically leaped out of her chair.

Bewildered, the staff watched as she ran outside, practically skipping as she went.

Dust and pebbles along the tracks began to stir with a distant rumbling.

Outside, over the distant hills, a second train was coming in.

This one from the south rather than the north.

There were several dozen wooden cars with thin armored supports, and interspersed between them were larger open cars carrying tanks under tarps and chains. All of these cars trailed behind a conventional engine the shape of a blocky cylinder on wheels. Though a red star was marked on the front of the train, it was not an ally. Festooned on its sides were sloppily painted identifying insignias for the 8th Ram Rifle Division of Rangda.

“Weapons free!” Kuracha shouted in an excitable tone of voice.

Across the line, the voices of the infantry officers echoed the command.

First to fire was the enormous Vajra cannon mounted near the rear of the train.

An earthshaking rumble followed as the 203mm shell plunged toward its target.

In seconds the steel cap of the explosive shell met the side of the engine.

An explosion followed that was loud enough to be heard well at the station itself.

Punching through the side of the train with its sheer weight alone, the 203mm shell detonated partially inside the engine and blew a massive hole in it through which smoke and fire and steam belched into the air. Thrown off-balance by the sheer explosive force, the train tipped, its wheels coming clean off the tracks, and in moments derailed entirely. Pushed off the tracks and onto its side, the engine’s coupler split like a twig amid the violence, and the cars following behind it crashed into the engine and smashed into a pile.

Over a dozen cars, one after the other, derailing and crashing end to end. Tanks hurled from cars mid-crash and rolled downhill. Men and women were thrown bodily from the farthest of the cars in the crash, lucky to survive the bloody press of flesh that had become of the cars closest to the engine. Beneath the stress, the engine finally detonated, spraying molten steel and fragments and steam every which way and spreading an violent fire.

Into this mound of death, the ASURA battalion stared, and prepared to add fuel to its fires.

“Launch a two-shell barrage on the cars! Mark!” Kuracha ordered.

Promptly following orders, the anti-tank guns along the defensive line and the howitzers on the armored train performed a prompt two-shell barrage. Within the next thirty seconds a few dozen rounds crashed into the engine, around the derailed cars, into the smashed troop transports and mobile depots. Dozens of smaller explosions went off across the wrecks. Fires spread across every car and over the tracks, catching on spilled and stored fuel. Thick, noxious black smoke billowed up from the crash site.

Halani Kuracha rubbed her hands together and stretched them out in a cutesy flourish.

“Good job! That and the next few trains they send will make a fine example.”

She turned heel and stared sweetly at the train station staff.

“Now, for your loving correction.” She said, clapping her hands. “Please follow me to your warehouses, where we will uncover all supplies bound for the traitors, tally them up, and send them to Solstice, where the loyal among us need them the most. Please send all villagers and volunteers back to their homes. My loving correction is only for you.”

There was no vocal disagreement. The Secretary, the Engineer and other paid station staff descended the platform onto the tracks and ran to the warehouses in a sprightly dash. It was only the station manager who seemed to tarry, staring behind himself at his office with a sense of confusion. Kuracha tapped her feet and stared at him with a sour face.

“Hey,” she said in a dangerous tone of voice, “do you think you’ve got it any different?”

At this implication, the station manager got started running himself.

Kuracha eyed the infantry officer with the peaked cap. She nodded her head toward her.

“Slash all the phone lines to Rangda. Destroy any other Ram marked trains that come here. Until we’re clear the 8th Division has surrendered, they’re all suspect.”

With scarcely any acknowledgment, the KVW officer set about her work without question.

Kuracha smiled sweetly.

Oh ho ho ho! Little Madiha’s the all-important sword; but we’re a fine shield.”

She stared at the burning wreckage of the enemy train with much satisfaction.

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