Fortson and Reye watched the tight-beam laser feed showing the beginning of the Rogon attack on the southern continent while seated in the communications room at the cave complex. The rest of the citizens watched, either on their own com units, or seated with others in the common areas.
The Rogon troops snaked between the hills staying on average about 2000 yards from the rivers course. The rapidly moving force got occasional glimpses of Soessossins between themselves and the water. They moved unopposed and with growing confidence in what looked to be, from all they knew, a lopsided conquest. The plan itself showed they were in a hurry to get the one-sided war over and move on to better things as rapidly as possible. At least that’s what Fortson thought considering the fact they were making no effort to investigate what might be on their exposed flank.
“Send what you got Joe,” Les Reye authorized. “I doubt they can intercept us but even if they do what with the relays they won’t know where we are sending from.”
Fortson merely nodded then said, “I would bet better than even money the caves are no longer a secret Les, the Stuart compound sure isn’t, and that’s the first relay point.”
In the common dining hall Bill and Janie Bartlett along with the Parkers and a dozen other colonists at first made idle chitchat as the drama played out on a large screen set against one wall of the cavern. Later the mood became much more somber and Fortson’s voiceover comments came more often as the circle closed. All attention became riveted on the screen. On a hill another 500 yard further from the river, some of the Leviticans and their allies had a much closer view.
Jedediah and Aaron said little or nothing; all of the direct commands and statements of advice, were given by Sister Martha. Ruth and Miriam Dobswell held themselves off to the side on a blanket, holding hands and silently praying for the best through all that was to follow.
“We wait,” Martha said in response to Hosham who was eager to begin moving the mass of the Soessossins closer to the half-deployed Rogon troops. “Another few minutes and we make sure that those with rifles are spread out equally. Those behind at least.”
The Llama’s had two different sexes, but except for birthing and a few months of early child raising there was little to separate one from another. Their reproductive organs were hidden from sight, at least as far as humans were concerened, and even after more than an Earth year of contact none of the humans could tell one sex from the other except at birthing time. And that was something that happened rarely.
It came as a surprise to Jedediah when some of those he assumed to be male turned out to be female instead. Because of the Soessossins actual gender equality in most respects, more than 80% of them were ready for and became active combatants.
The bulk of the ‘Native’ force, some 3500 soldiers, 300 of them armed with projectile weapons supplied by Liberty City, were strung out parallel to the Rogons route of march. but concealed in the hilly ground behind them. The Llamas visible to the Rogon, about 200 in total, those between the Rogon and the river, were stationed as a lure and showing themselves only enough so as to insure the much larger force behind the encircling soldiers remained undetected. The inept Rogon leadership was turning this simple ruse into a masterful strategy.
RoDan and the Jeep remained motionless dug into their holes at either end of the western flank where Shintok; petok-S waited for all his soldiers to get into position. When petok-S moved inwards the bots would follow. For now the risk of exposure was too great to justify the risk involved. At present the moon Carter was above the battleground but she would be below the horizon in another hour. From that point on the information relayed to Liberty City would become very scarce. The hope was the Dobswells and Marty could send information to the bots who would do all of the transmitting back to the north. Rodan and the Jeep would rely on movement and burst mode to keep from becoming targets.
* * *
Shintok; elron-A, with argo as his second, were on one of the skimmers and huk with teth on the other. They waited along with the western force and would do whatever petok-S ordered. The Rogon commander, true to his reputation as an original thinker, had hinted that if the fight went well he might even use the skimmers to retrieve wounded troops and bring them back for timely medical care. Elron could scarce believe one might dilute the rewards of victory in this fashion and was not happy his role might be minimized, but still as leader of the transport team, his reward would be greater than that of any common soldier.
Shintok; huk-T was more than pleased he was out of harms way. As soon as an opportunity presented itself he was going back to the crater lake and start staking out a claim. What foolish ness, hauling around wounded soldiers, after the fight was through petok-S would find his career was too. Even teth his second conceded the very thought of assisting failure and cutting the spoils went against everything the Rogon stood for. How could a Shintok fall so low?
* * *
The viewscreen flickered, showed random bursts of static, and then went dark, all within a few seconds as Carter went below the horizon. Fortson announced, “From here on in no more pretty pictures. We will keep the voice feed on but I think we can tell what happens next.”
“The Rogons will make a mass charge along their front and drive the Llamas against or into the river and use their vastly superior fire power to kill enough of them so that surrender and slavery become the only option. As soon as the Rogons are committed to that plan the rest of the Soessossins behind them will be on their heels and attempt to do the same, but with the Rogons as victim. Against good leadership the Llamas don’t stand a chance.”
“All the Rogons need to do is wait until the attack from the rear starts, then halt and hold their ground. Weapons range and the relatively open terrain and the Llamas can’t get close enough to hurt them. The Rogons uncommitted and in the west start rolling up the flank and the battles over but for the body count. I don’t think it’ll turn out that way due to how we’ve seen the Rogons perform in the past but once the fighting starts all bets are off.”
“There is a third option Joe,” came Andy’s drawl from Ft. Stuart. “If the Rogons turn and run too soon and with what we have seen of their normal control; this could turn into another Concord Bridge. Those MK I’s are a bit better than smoothbores dontcha’ know!
“Depending on the first round of targets the Llamas pick, this could get ugly for the Rogons and fast.”
* * *
“And all of the people of war who were with him went up.
and they proceeded to camp in the north…
with the valley between them…
And it came to pass as soon as the King saw it…
The men of the city rose up and went to meet Israel in battle,
he and all his people at the appointed time.”
“Father, Sister Martha, all of you who are the Lords people,” Aaron Dobswell said, “Let us pray.”
“Thus was it recorded,” said Jedediah Dobswell, “And the King is the Rongon, and Joshua and the Israelites are as us, and with the help of the Lord of hosts, Joshua defeated his enemies, as so shall we…”
“It is starting,” Hosham said to Marty as they watched the Rogon begin to move with a lumbering gate towards the river.
“Go tell the ones with Jedediah and Aaron, They will want to be here when we start moving ourselves.”
“Things are going well,” Shintok; petok-S said to his staff watching the displays from the front. One in nine of his soldiers had equipment for visual communications and the view was both impressive and gratifying though tending to flicker in and out as the repeated plasma bolts caused the optics to automatically dim in order to keep from burning out.”
“Send a message to all leaders that I only want intermittent fire unless they can see the enemy in front of them. There is no purpose in expending energy on dangerous rocks and plant life.” It was the right command but petok-S would be happy if even a scant majority of the Rogons complied. Obedience and discipline in the heat of the moment was an uncommon virtue and not one he expected.”
As the Rogons neared the crest of the various hummocks and ridges the Llamas were hiding behind, flights of arrows began to fall amongst them. Few hit anything and the lack of success and fewer than expected numbers caused a general speed up in the rate of advance. Only two Rogon were hit and down by the time those first positions were overrun and from the heights the flight of the retreating Soessossins was clear to all.
Marty gave the order to move just as the Rogons hit the ridge and the Dobswells arrived. The Rogon by now had vanished and were out of sight and below the first set of hills by the time the Soessossins could start to get underway. In war—especially in war— time waits for no one.
“It is time, we advance now and close the trap,” Shintok; petok-S said with more certitude then he felt. Something was wrong here. He wasn’t seeing as many of the ponies as he expected and he hadn’t heard any reports of the ancient projectile weapons that Edwards had talked about being used yet. Still it was time. He told elron to circle behind and start picking up the wounded then took his position in the rear as the western portion of the line went into motion.
Shintok; elron-A was moving almost at once, driving his skimmer in the start of an arc so that he would come into the battlefield from behind. Anything else and confusion would be the result. He looked behind to see how close huk was and couldn’t locate him anywhere; nor was there any reply when he tried to signal him. Communications equipment failure was his guess…well… it was more like a hope.
“Off we go to make our fortunes,” huk-T said to his broodmate teth as he turned around and sped back to the crater lake. His descendants would praise him for this and he might even become an ‘-S’ himself.
The Jeep and Rodan followed behind the flanking petok-S careful to remain hidden but sending occasional updates to Liberty City; still pictures only keeping the bandwidth down. They had seen the skimmer and kept out of sight when it passed between them going the other way. If nothing else it was one less enemy to worry about.
The Rogons could already see the river and the fewer than two hundred Soessossins crowded on its bank when they became fully aware of the problem behind them. “Damn you stupid assholes,” petok-S heard Cotton Edwards exclaim as he saw the same picture stream the Rogon leader was looking at.
“What mean you by this?” came the imperious challenge. “Speak must! What have you been shielding from your betters Slave?!”
“If you frackin’ morons had the brains god gave a duck you wouldn’t need to ask!”
That was all he could take, Shintok; petok-S triggered the plasma rifle slung beneath his belly and Edwards literally vanished in a cloud of steam and a puff of smoke. A waste of meat but such insolence must not be tolerated.
Turning to his second in command he said, “Yes the major part of their strength is behind us. Send instructions to stop the advance and destroy them before any more damage is done!”
All too predictably the orders went unheeded. Those in the rear continued to drop and those in front kept firing and rushing towards the river and the helpless prey upon its banks. Before more than a tenth of the Soessossins were killed the others had plunged into the water and were swimming towards the opposite shore, which at most points was less than a hundred yards away. Most of the Rogon were by now down on the rivers narrow flood plain with the Llamas holding the high ground behind them.
A few Rogons turned around and started to fire at the protected positions on the hills above the river. The rest just followed the Soessossins into the water, weapons and all, ready to finish off the easy ones first. —And got a surprise—They learned why in the future the river would be called the ‘Cold River’. It was ice even at this time of year. The channel was deep and filled with melt water from high up on the mountains from inside of the continent. The water never got closer than ten degrees above the freezing point until it had a chance to fill up the crater lake, settle, and warm in that larger body before finishing its journey to the sea.
It only took one or two to start firing the plasma rifles, now submerged, to get the others, those not so numb they had lost control of their musculature, to fire also. Steam rose, seals leaked, and explosions rocked the water. As many as a dozen made it to the other shore where they lay, still numb, exhausted, and helpless, as the once pacifistic Soessossins finished them off with spears or arrows or sometimes with knifes and bare hands. Those who stood their ground on the other side, outnumbered forty to one fared no better.
Shintok; petok-S ordered retreat. He called for elron-A to arrange a pickup and only afterwards did he find out what had happened to the missing Liberty City rifles… None on the Rogon side survived. Twenty Soessossins would join them in hell, or wherever the dead in battle landed.
By the time Shintok; elron-A circled back the massacre was complete. Four hundred fifty Rogons against a weak and backwards foe. Hardly worthy of being a slave race and yet, until he found huk and teth at the crater lake, elron was convinced that he and argo were the only survivors. This whole mission was one disaster after another. There was nothing to do but return to the grounded Dagon’s head and await whatever was in store. Those on board had seen the record. Except for acknowledging his call they weren’t saying anything else.
With his skimmer in the lead, elron-A was only five miles away from the grounded ship and base-camp when the darkening sky ahead lit up with the glare of a hundred suns. The SwiftStrike was leaving the planet, and leaving without him.