Three thousands words today! W00t! I have the morning off tomorrow, Christmas Eve, but have to work second shift. At least with now-teen daughters I don’t have to worry about them running screaming into our room at 0600 that “Santa was here!!!111!!”
Instead, I’ll work more on the Battle of Augusta. Short and confusing but more engagements are. We even catch a glimpse that our heroine is not nearly as composed as she thinks she is. Lots to do…
It was noon and the day was mostly cloudy but no real sign of rain. Faustina and her staff, mounted on horses, paused on the upper overpass of where two highways crossed not more than a mile northeast of Augusta. There were several bridges but as the docks lay on the old Georgia side between what had been US 78 and I-520, those were the two which were the focus of her and her army.
Night scouting from her cavalry as well as sending a dozen across at each point – legionaries masquerading as traders – confirmed early intelligence. The Peoples’ Liberation Army had a squad on each side of the bridge, the Georgia side each reinforced with a single machine gun in a sandbagged bunker. No artillery or armor anyone could see. First Legion was in the woods just shy of the US 78 crossing with Second ready at the other.
She was older both from Ventidio and from her centurions that complex plans meant sure failure, so they had tried to keep it simple. Another group of pretend-traders would approach the river but instead of crossing, take out the sentries with knives and hopefully in silence. The cohorts would then move out at a trot with the 60mm mortars dropping smoke just as they began to cross. The PLA on the far side would be cut down as quickly as possible.
Speed is the vital factor, I tried to impress upon them last night. Even with our overwhelming numerical advantage, we cannot get drawn into a house-to-house fight!
Once across, the lead three cohorts of each legion would turn left and right to cover the 2500 feet to the new docks. Three more cohorts of First would move into the city proper with the last four cohorts as her reserve. Of Second, four would also move into the town area with the Eighth and Ninth moving downriver about 1000 yards to make sure no word was sent to Savannah by river. Only Tenth would be the reserve of her left.
Keeping Savannah in the dark was also critical. Once the smoke shells began to drop, her communications aide would break radio silence to send a short code to their baggage train four miles from the river, on the road but occluded by hills and trees. From the road, after that message, an old Heron drone would take off. It carried no munitions but something far more important: jamming equipment.
She considered the time, 1230, and brought her horse into a trot through subtle motions in her thighs. They were a thousand feet short of the river when the mortars began to cough. As they had not been preceded by rifle fire, they must have achieved surprise. Ahead of her, Faustina saw her boys rush up onto the road and not-quite run for the bridge. Next to Faustina, her comm staffer raised the old Motorola military radio to his head and said, “Four. One. Two.”
Braun, centurion of Seventh and in tactical command of First Legion’s reserve, waved his men up onto the road and walked to stand next to her horse. Before he could speak there was the chatter of automatic machine gunfire. More rifle fire and the pop of grenades and there was a sudden, surprising quiet, broken only by similar sounds from the bridge 2500 feet to the southeast.
A messenger on horseback clattered up, not bothering to salute.
“Bridge is ours! Cohorts advancing! We – ” he was cut off by more machine-gun fire, now from across the river.
“Acknowledged,” Braun called. “Tell the centurions and the legate the reserve is advancing to the river’s edge and waiting for more news.”
“Sir!” the rider said as he spun his horse about.
Braun made a sweeping motion with his left arm as they all moved out. Two hundred feet from the river they could now see the smoke, tracers, and flares of small explosions moving to their left.
“All it takes,” he finally spoke to her, “is one stray round and we’re leaderless. Please stay back with the Eighth, General Hartmann.”
The second oldest of all of her centurions, he was also the least into her cult of personality. Faustina could respect that.
“Understood,” she said, bringing her mount to a halt and letting the men stream past her. They halted just as Smith of the Eighth was five yards behind her. Behind them and far overhead, they heard a rare sound: an aircraft propeller. They waited.
“Screw this,” Faustina muttered after five minutes. She slid off her horse and quickly walked forward. Braun saw her, glared while shaking his head but returned his gaze through his field glasses to the opposite bank.
Finally able to see something, it appeared to her the tracers and flashes were only about a thousand feet from one another. So close! But there was a rumble and disturbance in the water…
“Shit,” Braun muttered. “One of the gunboats is powering up…”
From her briefings, she knew they carried either a 37mm cannon or dual-mount 50 caliber machine guns. Either would wreak havoc amongst her boys. She made a motion to her three aides who had followed her forward.
“Send one-two-seven,” she said clearly.
“Sending one-two-seven,” her communicator reflected and proceeded to do so. Her centurions were now free to use what few LAWs and other anti-armor weapons they had on the gunboats.
There was a scream of a horse on the bridge. It had been shot, had fallen, and was writhing in agony. The rider had been thrown clear and was just able to shoot it twice before another rider came upon them. They watched as the fallen rider spoke quickly and pointed back at the reserve. The second rider was in motion again and to them in a moment.
“Gibson requests two cohorts of reserve cross, swing wide, and come at the enemy from their southern, open, flank!” he called, already exhausted.
“Tell him we’re coming on the double,” Braun replied, lifting his right hand high. ‘Seven and Eight. Double-time,’ Faustina saw. Both cohorts ran past her onto the bridge.
With a sound like the tearing of heavy tent cloth, they were all now aware that this particular gunboat had dual 50’s. Houses and small buildings along the river disintegrated under its fire as the boat itself slowly backed out into the river.
“It can’t get away! It can’t!” Faustina fumed, overall commander but powerless.
“The boys in Second Legion will plug it if it tries,” McFall, centurion of the Ninth cohort replied, having brought his men forward after the deployment of Seven and Eight. “Be calm, Princess. And don’t even think about crossing right now.”
The last was to her having taken a single step toward the bridge. Faustina was able to switch her snarl for a cute grin while turning her face to his.
“Understood! I am in your care!”
“What was…?” she began.
“That was a shaped charge hitting steel,” McFall answered. “Let’s hope they got…”
There were more tent-tearing sounds and more small buildings were obliterated but thick white smoke was pouring from the boat as it seemed to begin to aimlessly drift downriver.
“So,” the centurion of the Ninth went on, “they got the engine room. But that damned Ma-duce!”
An orange flare followed quickly by a white flare rose into the sky from the tiny patch of land that separated her two legions.
“That was no signal of ours,” she said. “Dear God, is there some mobile force around here I don’t know about?!”
“Miss?” McFall asked.
“I… I can have the optics on the old drone turned on! We’ll be able to see – ” she began, talking too fast.
“And everyone from here to Savannah will see that signal, too, Miss,” the disapproval obvious in the centurion’s voice. “Judging by the sudden silence over there, I’d bet that was their surrender notice!”
“Surrender?” Faustina lifted her own field glasses to her face and stared. From what had been a closing ring of fire was now silent except for an occasion rifle report and men yelling. Yelling in American English. More clattering of hooves on the bridge had her lower her glasses. The rider looked happy.
“The Chicoms just surrendered!” he said, pulling up so close his horse kicked gravel onto their commander. “Legate Gibson says he’ll send word when it’s safe you to cross, Princess!”
“Screw that!” she replied, waving at the two who were holding their four mounts. “I’m coming over now! McFall! Detail the Tenth Cohort to return to the baggage and begin work on a marching camp! I’ll send more help in an hour or so. See ya’!”
Watching them ride off unprotected across the bridge, the centurion’s subcommander quietly observed, “She was panicking at one point but she recovered well.”
“She learns fast,” McFall agreed. “She’d better for what comes next.”