Weak.

A week since writing anything.  I’d like to blame someone besides that SOB who’s picture keeps showing up on my driver’s license. Once more, my Machine Civilization love triangle is in a war zone.  WTF am I thinking?  If anyone knows, please let me know.

I’ve been a mix of both busy and lazy.  I think that I’ve a possible work-around:  on those days when I don’t have to make dinner for my family, I start drinking coffee at work at the end of the day.  That way, I come home with the energy to write.  Toss back some gin or rye while I let the dogs out, then I’ve the mental looseness to write.

Also, I was afraid that I couldn’t see how the battle was going to play out.  End, yes.  Play out?  No.  So:  baby steps; break the problem down into manageable parts.  So, here’s the part from Gil’s perspective.  If I can talk my wife into getting pizza tomorrow night, I can get part 3 typed.

“Defiant” – Episode 28, Part 2

The fort shuddered again, the attackers’ 60mm mortars were of no effect – yet, but somewhere further out was at least one 37mm gun. Indirect fire; not bad for so-called barbarian raiders. Gil had already realized that model of their opponents was dreadfully wrong.

There was a whistling, going up in pitch. He and those around him ducked down. A mortar shell fell just short of their position on the wall. Gil looked at his mate in the militia, Will, just opposite him. They both looked into the fort’s courtyard at the three 120mm mortars. That were still quiet. Captain Blaine was obviously waiting for something worse. They stood and peered over the battlements.

“That opening move was a surprise,” Will said.

Gil nodded. Two hours ago, the battle had commenced with a flurry of smoke shells, all about their position. The horseman charged… then, nothing. A few Regulars with IR gear took what shots they could. When the smoke dissipated, word quickly went round that at least a third of the mounted force had simply bypassed them at a gallop. Headed downriver, towards the civilians. The rest were now most likely gone to ground in the rills and stream valleys that cut through the area. The fort might have a commanding view from atop its hill, but you had to see the enemy to shoot at them.

There was a series of *crump!*crump!*crump!* to their northwest that brought Gil back to the present. Shelling at the dam’s guardhouse, but dwindling back along the old interstate. What were they doing, he wondered?

There was a sudden cacophony of men’s voices: screaming, yelling. And moving: the sound was coming down the road towards them. Ah, he thought. Just like when their vanguard bypassed them this morning, the smoke will cover an assault on the guardhouse. He gripped tightly on his battle rifle, cursing the captain, Nichole, and himself. He didn’t care what she was nor how good her reflexes; she could not take on thousands.

He noted Blaine next to one of the sharpshooters, both of them looking to the northeast. There was now activity in the keep. Gil looked over his left shoulder to see the mortar crews making adjustments. They were pointed nearly vertical; very short range.

Finally, he thought.

He looked back to the fort’s captain, speaking carefully into the mic who’s wire ran back down into the fort. The screaming and yelling towards the dam was louder, now. Voices were punctuated by small arms fire. Ours, theirs, both? Gil wondered.

There was as sudden series of blasts. Even to his untrained ears, Gil knew what Claymore mines sounded like. The yelling was now leavened by screaming.

The mortars behind him began to cough. In seconds, they landed off towards the guardhouse. The screaming was worse. The smoke was just beginning to dissipate.

“Eyes to your front!” A sergeant of the Regulars yelled from just behind them. Gil and the other five jumped and turned their gaze back to the southeast. Gil kept his eyes forwards as long as he could, but in another few minutes, the smoke was virtually gone. Screw that sergeant; he turned and looked again.

Like a tide, but made of bleeding human bodies, a mob of thousands was flowing back away from the dam’s guardhouse. The fort’s mortars continued their deadly rain, now joined by the crew-served machine guns of their battlement. Gil watched, fascinated, as a retreat turned into a rout before his eyes. Before he got in trouble again, he returned his gaze forwards. Were they going to win?

About three quarters of an hour later, their cavalry captain, Muller, made the rounds along the battlements with the water carriers. Gil knew from their ride here that he firmly believed in keeping his men as informed as possible. In the melee of battle, knowing what your officer wanted could make a world of difference. Gil looked at the sky. Crap, he thought. Just after noon?

Captain Muller came from their left, taking out his field glasses and staring ahead with the militiamen.

“I guess we’re on the southeast ‘cause that’s the least likely path of attack?” Gil asked.

“Yep,” Muller replied easily, still looking out. “I think they might try one more push along the river road, but that’s probably a diversion. I’d wager there’s about ten thousand or more in Fifteenmile Creek, just to our south.”

“What?!” Will spun right, looking south. “What?!”

“Easy, trooper. Eyes front.” Muller quietly admonished him. “I could be wrong, of course, but that makes the best sense. They know now that we’ve heavy mortars – hell, they might have known it beforehand – and that we can see through their smoke.”

“That means,” he lowered the field glasses and looked at them, “that they’ve at least one more surprise for us.”

“Which is what?” Will asked with a catch in his voice. The captain smiled.

“Wouldn’t be much of a surprise if we knew, now, would it?” The water carriers were moving to the next position along the wall. Muller nodded to them as he followed.

When he was out of earshot, Gil heard Will mutter, “A simple training ride; just to see the river, they said…” He continued with more, but too low for Gil to hear. He closed his eyes for just a moment….

“Gil!” Will hissed at him.

What? With a start, he realized he’d fallen asleep. Looking back, the sun was just above the snowy apex of Mount Hood.

“Look at that!” Will hissed again, pointing. Gil looked that direction, down into the courtyard. That’s a surprise, he thought: both captains together. Dangerous. Just one stray artillery round would have them leaderless. They’d made it a point to stay far apart, until now. Blaine seemed agitated about something, and gestured a few times towards the dam. Risking being caught, Gil lifted his helmet slightly as he cupped his hands behind his ears.

He lowered them. He’d only caught two words, but they were two he didn’t want to hear from the officers.

“…that girl!…” He’d heard Blaine say.

Nicho – no, Five, he forced himself to think; what are you doing? He saw Blaine’s corporal push the wireless comm at him. He saw the captain’s face fall. He pushed the gear back, running and yelling.

“Take COVER!” His voice echoed through their fort. “Missiles incoming!”

What? WHAT?! Gil crouched into himself, pressed up against the inner wall of the battlement. Were they go—?

The first blast knocked the wind from his lungs. He blacked out.

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