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Authors: Rick Shelley

Tags: #General, #Military, #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Romance

Jump Pay (37 page)

BOOK: Jump Pay
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His inspection went only as far as his thighs, though. For a very good reason. Both legs were gone above the knee.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Echo Company's 2nd platoon walked away from the ambush as a single squad of nine men. Sauv was in command. Mort took the point again, for the few minutes that the platoon was moving in column order. But then the entire company moved into a skirmish line and turned south again. The company's 5th platoon made the trip back to the base with the seriously wounded this time—5th platoon with one addition.

The Heggie counterattack down the center of the peninsula had failed. The pocket on the east side was rapidly collapsing. Half of the 13th was moving across the neck of land to add their numbers to the fight on the west side.

Another two hours of combat saw an end to any unified resistance by the Schlinal troops on Tamkailo, but mopping up operations took most of the rest of the day.

—|—

Joe Baerclau managed to think that it was peculiar that he had not lost consciousness at any point, despite the shock and loss of blood. Al had been at his side before Joe was even fully aware of what had happened, tying tourniquets around the stumps of his legs and applying large medpatches over the open wounds, to stop the bleeding and prevent the destruction of more tissue. An analgesic patch over Joe's spine ensured that he would feel no pain.

Then there was the long haul back to the hospital for Joe and three other serious casualties. On belts. That proved to be a tricky business for the man guiding Joe. With both legs gone above the knee, the Bear was top heavy. The stabilizers had to work constantly to keep him vertical—which meant that he swayed back and forth quite a bit.

Al Bergon made the trip, the one healthy addition to 5th platoon. He took Joe in tow personally. He talked the entire way, but the words made no impression on Joe. The words went in and through without pausing long enough for him to bother really to
listen
to them. He was too busy looking at the sky, absorbed by that. Even thinking about his wounds—and the months that recovery, regeneration, and rehabilitation would take—was too much bother. The sky was
so
blue, without even a hint of a cloud anywhere in sight.

A peaceful sky.

—|—

Major General Kleffer Dacik walked back into the warehouse he had turned into his headquarters and took off his helmet. He simply let it drop to the floor. It was two hours past noon. There was no longer the slightest doubt about the outcome of the Tamkailo campaign. There were still some few Heggies fighting, but they could no longer hope to reverse the outcome. Then there were munitions and other supplies to destroy—or remove. Grunt work. Nothing would be left for the Heggies on Tamkailo except for empty buildings and the bodies of their dead.

"General, CIC says that the Heggie fleet is gone. They just made the jump to hyperspace," Jorgen Olsen reported. There had been two additional skirmishes between the fleets after the first battle, but the later clashes had been minor. The only losses had been to Bats and Boem S3s.

Dacik sat heavily on a crate of uniforms. He stared at Olsen and, after a moment, nodded slowly. The general had just come from the field hospital. Seeing the carnage left to repair, and getting updated reports on the numbers of dead and wounded from his subordinate commanders, had taken too much from Dacik for him to feel even relief at this latest evidence that the battle for Tamkailo had been won.

The cost.

"Sir, Admiral Kitchener wants to know when you plan to start moving the men back up to the ships," Colonel Ruman said.

That caught enough of Dacik's attention for him to look up.

"He wants to start making plans for retrieval," Ruman added when the general didn't speak.

Dacik shook his head, a minimal gesture, then hauled in enough breath to talk. It required an unprecedented effort.

"I'm not sure yet. Certainly not before sunset for the bulk of the troops and equipment." He hesitated, then said, "Make arrangements to start moving the wounded up as soon as possible. They'll get better treatment aboard ship."

"Shuttles are already on their way down for the wounded, along with an extra surgical team. The field hospital's already been on to the admiral about that."

Dacik got to his feet again, moving as if he were three times his age. Movement
hurt
. "Tell the admiral that I'll get on to him as soon as I know what's going on. I'll try to start cycling units up by local sunset. The rest..." He made a vague gesture with both arms. "The rest depends on how long it takes us to account for the last of the enemy and destroy their supplies. With any luck at all, we'll be ready to lift everyone off by midnight."

Then the general walked away from his staff. Only Captain Lorenz, his aide, went with him, and Lorenz knew not to get too close to the general now unless invited. Dacik went to a corner and stood there staring at the intersection of two walls. It was several minutes before he turned halfway and gestured for Lorenz to come closer.

"Hof, there's only one thing that could possibly begin to make our losses here justifiable."

"Sir?" Lorenz prompted when the general went silent again.

"The thing that Mizatle and Hobarth kept harping on when they dumped this campaign in my lap. They said they thought that if we did a thorough job on Tamkailo, the Hegemony wouldn't be able to mount another offensive against us for a year or more, that it might well be enough to end the war between us."

"You think that'll happen, General?" Hof was genuinely curious about the answer to that question.

"I don't know." Dacik shook his head. "I
want
to believe that it will, but..."

There was absolutely no need for him to finish that thought.

EPILOGUE

There was never any formal cease-fire between the Accord of Free Worlds and the Schlinal Hegemony. There were no official diplomatic contacts of any sort. But as the result of a number of unofficial "non-meetings" a tacit understanding developed of the "You don't attack us and we won't attack you" variety.

No one in the Accord government counted on the understanding remaining understood one minute longer than the Hegemony thought they needed it.

—|—

Shortly after the return of the fleet from Tamkailo, Kleffer Dacik was awarded a cluster of medals, promoted to lieutenant general, and quietly transferred to a post at Headquarters, Accord Ministry of Defense. Although nothing was ever committed to writing, it was clearly understood that Dacik would never again be permitted to command troops in combat.

His victories were too expensive.

BOOK: Jump Pay
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