All voyages end, but some end much worse than others. Guanamarioch, inexperienced as he was, couldn't imagine one that ended worse than this. (Truth be told, not one other God King in the fleet had ever actually had any experience like this one. A contested emergence? Didn't the damned humans know that was not in the rules?)
Several days before emergence from hyperspace, the God Kings and Kenstain had begun resuscitating the normals by small groups before leading them to their landers. For those, like Guanamarioch's oolt, resuscitated early and made to wait, this was pure murder, literally, as bored and sometimes hungry normals fought with each other in the cramped hold of a Lamprey.
The globe had emerged into a maelstrom of fire. Even at its incredible mass, nearly equivalent to a small planet or a large asteroid, the globe bucked and jolted from the energies released by its own and the threshkreen fires, as well as from exploding ships. The large view-screen, forward in the Lamprey's hold, was completely ignored by the ignorant normals. Guanamarioch, however, was transfixed by the swirl and glow, the bolts and flashes of the battle in space.
Once he saw in that screen, much magnified he hoped, the gaping maw of a threshkreen super-monitor, coming into alignment with his own globe. There was a bright flash, like that of an antimatter bomb detonating, and a new icon appeared, shading from red to blue to red again. Guanamarioch did not recognize the icon and so asked his Artificial Sentience to explain.
"It is a kinetic energy projectile, lord, moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light. The globe cannot tell if it contains an antimatter or nuclear warhead, hence the change in color. Frankly, if it hits us amidships it may not matter if it is an antimatter bomb or not."
Guanamarioch gulped. Involuntarily his sphincter loosened to allow liquid feces to run down his legs to the floor. The smell meant nothing as the normals had been shitting themselves silly ever since awakening. Still, the junior God King part way lowered his head and crest in shame. Shame or not, though, he could not keep his yellow eyes away from the screen.
Despite the speed of the thing, the projectile was so well aligned it was possible to track it, or rather the icon, on the screen. From every outcropping of the globe that mounted a weapon, fire poured down on the KE projectile. It seemed to form an ever more shallow cone with the icon at the apex.
"It's going to hit," the Artificial Sentience announced. "Lower right quarter as the globe bears. It's going to be bad."
Discipline ought to be used.
—Shakespeare, Henry V
Bijagual, Chiriqui, Republic of Panama
Oh, was Digna in a bad mood. Without a word, in field uniform, holding a switch in her right hand and helmet tucked under the left arm, and accompanied by two stout triple great-grandsons, she burst into the little shack. Her bright blue eyes flashed icy fire.
The woman of the house, in fact Digna's great-great-granddaughter though the woman looked much older than the great-great-grandmother did, took one look and backed away, holding her hands in front of her in supplication.
"Where is the little toad?" Digna demanded, lip curling in a sneer and her voice dripping with scorn.
Fearfully the woman pointed at the shack's sole bedroom. Digna brushed the door open with the switch. Immediately her nose was assailed by the strong smell of cheap rum. In the dim light she looked down on a snoring, disheveled man, unsurprisingly also a great-great-grandchild, and felt the rising heat of murderous anger.
She took half a step forward into the room and began.
Down came the switch across the man's face, hard enough to draw blood.
Again the switch, accompanied by, "Disgrace to my blood!"
By the time Digna got to "useless" her great-great-grandson, trying vainly to protect his head with his hands, had rolled onto the floor. He begged for pardon but the beating continued.
"Little rat!" . . . "Cockroach!" . . . "Vermin!"
When Digna's right arm tired she put on her helmet and transferred the switch to her left. When that tired she stopped altogether and, using her rested right arm grasped the man by the hair and began to drag. Digna was small, and perhaps she could not have pulled the man against his will. But, on the other hand, was it worth it to him to lose his hair finding out?
In the shack's main room Digna flashed her eyes at her escorts.
"Arrest your cousin," she ordered. "Three days in the pit for failure to show for drill." Briefly she reconsidered her sentence and then added, "Make that three days on bread and water."
"Si señora," they answered, meekly.
Digna's Officer Candidate School had trained her to be an artillery officer. Specifically she had been trained to command a battery of very old, very surplus, 85mm Russian-made SD-44 guns. To crew the guns she had several hundred each of middle-aged men and suitably strong and healthy young women. And that was only counting her clan alone, be they by blood or by marriage. She also had substantial numbers of what she, with the benefit of a fairly classical education, thought of as the "perioeci"—the "dwellers about"—immediately under her control. Since the guns, with forward observers, fire direction computers and crews only required ninety men, or perhaps one hundred and twenty women, to operate at full efficiency, she had an excess of riches, personnel-wise. She solved this problem by assigning virtually all the unattached or less-attached women and girls of the clan to the guns and forming most of the men into a very large militia infantry company, though perhaps "dragoon" was a better word than infantry. There was not a man or boy who could not ride, and raising thoroughbred horses had been a clan specialty for centuries.
The guns were really quite remarkable specimens of their type; perhaps the ultimate version of the quick firing guns like the French "Seventy-five" that had made the First World War such a nightmare. Compared to the SD-44, the French "Seventy-five" was pretty small beans.
Each could throw a seventeen-pound shell up to seventeen kilometers and do so at a rate of up to twenty-five rounds a minute, maximum, or up to three hundred per hour, sustained. Moreover, since they had been designed by Russians who believed that all defense was antitank defense, the guns had a fair capability against light and medium armor. They were, in fact, the very same design as used on the Type-63 light tanks the gringos had purchased for Panama from the People's Republic of China. Lastly, each gun had an auxiliary engine that could propel it along at a brisk twenty-four kilometers per hour without the need for a light truck to serve as a prime mover. They had the trucks, mind you, but they didn't absolutely need them. They also had horses, lots of horses, in case the trucks and guns ran out of fuel.
The guns could fire high explosive, or HE, smoke and illumination. They could also fire an armor piercing shell that would collanderize anything but a main battle tank. Digna knew that the antitank capability was likely to be completely useless.
Best of all, in her opinion, the guns could fire canister: four hundred iron balls per shell—over three thousand from the massed battery—that would make short work of a column attack. So she hoped anyway.
The switch she had used on her multi-great-grandson did as well to spur her horse to where the battery was training under the eye of one of her favorite granddaughters, Edilze, a dark and pretty young woman—she favored her grandfather—and, more importantly, one Digna recognized as having a will and a brain.
Digna had begun by training Edilze and eight others to crew the guns, along with six more in fire-direction techniques. That had actually taken only about ten days. As one of Digna's instructors at OCS had observed, "You can train a monkey to serve a gun. People are only marginally more difficult."
For that ten days she had let the men slide, since she had not a single trained assistant. Not that many of her clan would not be trained. Indeed, many of the young men had already gone off to train with the regular army. But they would stay in the regular army. She had the rest; those too old or those too young. And she had the women and girls.
After the ten days she had called in her sons. These she made platoon leaders. She figured, not without reason, that sons were used to obeying fathers and so based her chain of command fairly strictly on lines of clan seniority. The only notable exception was her foreman, Tomas Herrera, whom she put in charge of some of her own and all of the few residents of the area that had no blood or marriage relation whatsoever.
Digna passed the battery where her girls sweated under Edilze's lashing tongue. That's my girl, her grandmother thought. Such a treasure. Digna spurred the horse over to the drill field—ordinarily a flat cow pasture by the quebrada, or creek. There, the men—most of them—drilled on one of the simpler tasks, weapons maintenance. She had no time for close order drill and, given that the clan was already, in the nature of things, a remarkably cohesive unit, didn't feel the need anyway.
Doffing his straw hat as a sign of respect, an action much more meaningful than any formal military salute, Tomas Herrera walked up and stood by Digna's horse. Herrera was short and squat, with a brown face tanned to old leather. Muscles rippling his arms and torso told of a life of hard toil.
"You found your grandson, Dama?" he asked.
"I found the twerp where I expected," Digna sneered. "Flat on his back and drunk as a skunk."
Tomas smiled broadly. It never paid to balk the Lady, and blood relation would not save a man who deserved it from a lashing, be it from Digna's tongue or her switch.
"There is one in every family," Tomas observed consolingly. "You put him in the pit, I assume. How long?"
"As boracho as he was, I figured it would take him a day and a half to sober up. And another day and a half to realize he was being punished. Three days seemed sufficient, Señor Herrera.
"How are the others coming along?" Digna asked, eager to change the subject from one so distasteful.
"Well enough," Tomas answered. "We'll start marksmanship tomorrow."
"Not counting the five hundred rounds per man we have salted away, we have about one hundred and fifty rounds per rifleman and roughly twice that for the light machine gunners. It is enough to at least get them to point their rifles in the right direction and scare whatever they're shooting at," Tomas answered. "And we have over a thousand rounds for each of our two heavier machine guns, not counting the six thousand we have in the reserve stocks."
Digna nodded her head resignedly. It really wasn't much. But that was all they were going to have for the nonce.
"It isn't so bad, Dama," Tomas offered. "These are good men, in the main, and most of them solid campesinos who know how to shoot already."
Dismounting, Digna offered the reins of her mare to Herrera.
"Your family, Tomas?" she asked with real concern.
"Well enough," he answered simply. "My wife has taken charge of feeding. The girl is serving the big guns. Both my sons are off with the army. The wife of the eldest is assisting my wife, though my own wife never ceases her finding fault with the girl."
"Mothers are like that, with their sons' wives," Digna answered with a smile. "Ask any of my daughters-in-law."
Tomas simply chuckled, then turned and led the mare to a cashew tree footed by long sweet grass. Digna, meanwhile, turned her attention to the clusters of old men and young boys dotting the pasture.
"You've got to slap it hard, Omar," she told one fourteen-year-old struggling to replace the stamped receiver of his Kalashnikov.
Taking one knee next to the boy she took the rifle and, deftly placing the curved piece of metal in the right position, delivered a short, forceful slap that knocked it into position. With one thumb she pushed in the detent button on the rear of the receiver to release it and handed both sections back to the boy.
"You try it now, again, just like I did, Grandson."
Resting the rifle in his left hand, as his grandmother had, Omar placed the upper receiver onto the lower, holding the upper in place with his left thumb. Then he delivered a slap akin to that given by Digna. The upper receiver was knocked immediately into place, the detent—driven by the action spring—popping through the square hole in the rear.
"Thank you, Mamita!" the boy said.
Granting her descendant a rare smile, Digna rumpled his hair and continued on down the line. As she went she offered encouragement as needed, and—rarely—a bit of praise. Sometimes she stopped to provide more "hands on" instruction, though in this she was rarely harsh.
The reason she was not harsh was not immediately obvious. It was not that she was not naturally harsh; she was. But, in the circumstances, what her family needed to see was confidence, and confident people rarely showed harshness except with the most deserving.
Of course, anybody who was really confident, in the circumstances, was either drunk or too stupid to even begin to understand what was about to descend on the Republic of Panama and on the Earth.
Digna knew there were no grounds for confidence; she had seen the films of some of the off- and on-world fighting during her time at OCS. Inwardly she shivered as she wondered, perhaps for the thousandth time, if she would be able to save even a fraction of her blood from the enemy's ravenous appetite. She wondered, too, if she would be strong enough, harsh enough, to make the sacrificial choices she knew she would have to make when the time came.
And who will I choose to live, if it comes to that? My sons, whom I love, but who are too old to bring forth more children? My now-barren daughters? Do I pick the girls to save or the boys? Do I pick myself now that I can have children again? Do I pick myself and live, maybe for centuries, with the knowledge I let my loved ones die?
God, if there is a God . . . and if you are listening, I am going to have some very choice words for you for what you are about to do to me and mine.
Scowling, Digna pushed the sacrilegious thought from her mind and continued on her way. Reaching the end of the pasture she came to a ford at the creek. This she crossed nimbly, hopping from rock to rock. On the other side she scrambled up the muddy bank and continued along a well-worn path to where she had ordered the mess facility set up.
The smell of roasting meat hit her before she ever saw the calf turning on the spit. As she walked nearer, near enough to see fire and smoke and pots and pans, other smells caressed her nose. She detected fragrant frijoles; savory sancocho, the "national dish" of Chiriqui; frying corn tortillas, thick and fat-laden.
One of the younger girls nudged Señora Herrera, Tomas' wife, as Digna approached. The head cook passed to the younger girl the ladle with which she had been stirring the sancocho and turned to greet Digna. The woman, shapeless and worn now, had once been a great beauty. But the only remnants of that now were to be found in her granddaughters.
"Que tal, Imelda?" Digna asked. What's up?
"Nothing much, Doña," Imelda Herrera answered. "Lunch is coming along nicely and should be ready at about two."
"The stores are sufficient?"
Imelda pointed with her chin, a very Chiricana gesture, to a small herd of cattle held in by a temporary stockade. "Between those and the other food you donated, the rice and corn and beans, we are in good shape for another three weeks. But . . ."
"Yes? Tell me?"
"Well, Doña, I had this thought. It is fine now, while I and the women and girls working for me can prepare a proper meal. What about when these aliens come? When we have the boys out on horseback, moving fast, and we cannot get them decent food? What happens then?"
"The government has promised me canned combat rations," Digna answered. "Then again, they also promised me about four times more ammunition and fuel than we've been sent so far." Digna looked at Imelda questioningly. "You have an idea?"
"I can't do a thing about the ammunition and fuel. But it occurred to me that we could start smoking meat and cheese and storing it against the day."
Digna thought about that. Her herds, legacy of her husband's decades of hard work, were more than sufficient. She decided right then to go with Imelda's plan and told her so.
Then another thought occurred to Digna.
"How much meat can you smoke?"
Imelda thought about that for a moment, then answered, "Standing wood we have in abundance. But we can't hope to cut enough to smoke more than, say, one cow's worth a day."
"I understand," Digna said. "But what if I gave you twenty or thirty, maybe even forty men a day to cut firewood."
"I could do several cows' worth then. But to what end?"
"Oh, it occurred to me that there is going to be a huge demand for preserved food in the days ahead. I suspect I could sell anything you produced . . . rather, I could trade it, for whatever we are short in ammunition and gasoline. Maybe even pick up some weapons too.
"A little here, a little there," Digna mused, looking skyward at nothing in particular. "Not enough to make anyone else's fight impossible, but maybe enough to give us a better chance."
"Give me the men," Imelda answered. "Send me the cows."