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Authors: William R. Forstchen

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Never Sound Retreat

BOOK: Never Sound Retreat
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William R. Forstchen





Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia

Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

First published by Roc, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.

First Printing, January, 1998 10 987654321

Copyright © William R. Forstchen, 1998 All rights reserved

Cover art by San Julian



Printed in the United States of America

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.



If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."


This one's for Mom and Dad, who endured and encouraged my obsession with Civil War history and took me on my first tour of eastern battlefields when I was fourteen. Little did I know until years later that Mom saved every cent she could spare for over a year in order to finance that wonderful week-long trip, which for me was a visit to sacred ground. The most treasured items in my collection are the ones Dad helped me to buy, often after a long day of prowling old antique shops to find the one relic we could afford. With their guidance and help I knew that owning a book on the Civil War was far more important than a Beatles album, and a battered old cartridge box was a possession to be sought more eagerly than the latest style in clothes. I learned through them that being a "history nerd" was, in fact, a status and position to be proud of.


This book is also for Norm Schiach, fellow collector; Tim Kindred, fellow reenactor for over twenty years; and finally for Major General J. L. Chamberlain. I think the parallels are rather obvious.





In the history of the Wars of the Republic against the various Hordes, one can observe several periods of rapid technological innovations, and the resulting impact on tactics, operational considerations, and army organization.

The men of the 35th Maine and 44th New York wrought tremendous change on the world of Valennia by their passage through the Tunnels of Light. Their arrival near Suzdal could not have been more timely, at least from the human perspective. Their social and political beliefs, formed in the legendary Civil War fought on their home world was carried to our world and became the inspiration for the people of Suzdal to rise up—first against their Boyar masters, and then against the Tugar Horde. The five hundred and fifty men lead by Colonel Keane carried as well the technological knowledge which enabled them to create the weapons of war needed to stand against the mobile horse archers of the Hordes. With this combination of political ideology and modern weapons, the people of Rus set forth to first liberate themselves and then the world. I, as a citizen of the State of Roum, shall forever be indebted to the people of Rus for this act.

Throughout the first and second wars against the Tugar and Merki Hordes, the Republic was almost always in the lead in regards to technological innovation. One of the few exceptions was the Merki application of engines to airships, but even there the legendary Chuck Ferguson managed to launch a response within a matter of weeks and reestablish balance.

It is the war against the Bantag though that has presented the first true challenge to the technical prowess of human arms. Exhausted after the bitter struggle against the Merki, the newly formed Republic failed to push the initiative by rapidly expanding eastward to bring in new allies. Some claim that the main motivation was political, for a rapid expansion and incorporation of new states would have shifted the balance of power in Congress and perhaps even the Presidency itself. I, for one, do not necessarily believe that so cynical a motive was present. An examination of the
Congressional Record
will show that this point was raised on the floor of Congress; however, the simple hard facts of economics played a far greater role.

Testimony by Secretary of the Treasury William Webster clearly showed that the Republic had the resources to either rebuild its internal rail net after the devastation of the Merki invasion or embark on building a rail line to Nippon, but it could not do both. As usual in such things, a half measure was decided upon, with some resources allocated to pushing a line as far as the Shenandoah River, five hundred miles east of Roum, but no farther. The building program requested by Colonel Keane, including the pushing of a line down the western shore of the Great Sea, was given a lower priority until such time as all the rail links within the borders of the Republic were completed. (And yes, there were political considerations here, for if one looks at the layout of congressional districts, one can see that every congressman made sure that tracks were laid within their district before signing off on expansion eastward. But such is the reality of representative government.)

So, quite simply, after years of war, the economy of the Republic was near collapse and time was needed to repair the damage of the last war before expansion could be resumed. Nevertheless, if the rail line had been aggressively pushed eastward to reach the people of Nippon before the Bantag expanded north, ten more corps of infantry could have been recruited. Even if they had been armed with the older smoothbore muskets, their additional numbers would have had a profound impact, and all the subsequent crisises most likely averted. For against an army of over twenty-two corps of infantry, any Bantag advance would have been all but impossible. But that is now a "what if." The Bantag cut us off to the east and south, and locked the people of Nippon behind their curtain as they have also locked the tens of millions of the Chin.

Therein is the crux of the problem confronting the Republic. Our dream was to liberate the world from the horror of the human-devouring Hordes. At this moment that no longer seems possible, at least within our lifetimes. For even if the Bantag are defeated, they can retreat before us, falling back far faster by horse than we can pursue by the laying of rails.

It was now realized that no society which is nomadic can ever hope to create and sustain a technologically based military system. If the Bantag had been pushed off base prior to the arrival of Ha'ark the Redeemer, the Republic would have gone on to sweep the world. Once Ha'ark was in place, and the factories created, the war between humans and the Hordes took on an entirely new dimension— it is now an arms race.

Ha'ark wisely placed his industrial base nearly a thousand miles beyond the frontier of the Republic and there, in secret, turned out weapons of war. It is interesting to note the parallel evolution of military technology on the home world of the men of the 35th Maine and that of Ha'ark. The one crucial difference, however, is the fact that Ha'ark's world appears to have been a hundred years more advanced and, due to that, he has a foreknowledge of tactical application which our own armies can only guess at.

The first warning of these changes came about due to the escape of Sergeant Major Hans Schuder and several hundred prisoners from the Bantag empire. Only at this point was it realized just how advanced this new enemy has become.

Not only has Ha'ark achieved parity in terms of infantry weapons, but he might very well have advanced beyond us in the areas of naval, air, and the new application of steam for the propulsion of ironclad artillery.

The months after the liberation of Hans Schuder have proven to be tumultuous within our ranks. The first question has always been: Where would the enemy strike? The second question confronting us is: How will he apply his technical advantages when battle is joined? Perhaps most troubling, though, is the question: What does he know about warfare that we do not know? We have pushed to the edge of our abilities over the last decade, moving from slavery to a modern army. But to Ha'ark, our efforts must seem primitive; the only thing that is restraining him is the struggle he must be waging even now to bring his own society forward to match us.

Bearing these issues in mind, I would like to suggest some of the following considerations in terms of tactical employment of infantry against the threat of Horde warriors similarly armed. . . .


Extract of report to Colonel Andrew Lawrence Keane, submitted eight weeks after the escape and rescue of Sergeant Major Hans Schuder

Chapter One

"We're hit, we're hit!" 

Jack Petracci, commander of the Republic airship
Flying Cloud,
looked back to where his copilot and engineer, Feyodor, was pointing. A neat round hole had been punched into the stern of the airship just aft of the rear starboard engine. He studied the hole for several seconds. Some fabric was hanging loose, no struts were broken, controls to the tail elevators and rudder were intact and, most importantly, there was no fire.

"It's all right," Jack cried.

"No, damn it! I heard an explosion. The shell blew up inside the air hydrogen bag; we're burning!"

Jack ignored him and turned forward again. Straight ahead a Bantag airship, one of their new designs with wings, was boring straight in. Through his earphones he could hear Stefan, their top gunner, cursing wildly as he fired off another round. An explosion detonated on the enemy's wing where it was attached to the ship's airbag. A blue flash of light rippled up the side of the Bantag airship, and, within seconds, it was enveloped in flames, plummeting down, disappearing into the clouds below. That was two down, but there were still four more circling them.

Jack struggled to throw
Flying Cloud
into a steep banking turn to port, and, as the ship started to swing about, he looked downward to his left. Through a hole in the clouds he could see sunlight sparkling on the waves of the sea nearly twelve thousand feet below.

Pushing the flight stick forward, he dived again for the clouds. The advantage they had maintained over the last four months of simply being able to outclimb any opponent was finished; the damn Ban-tag had improved their machines yet again, and the only hope now was to duck into the clouds again and hope to shake off pursuit.

"Major Petracci!" Stefan's excited cry through the speaking tube was edged with hysteria. "We're burning!"

Jack looked back over his shoulder. Feyodor, in the aft-gunner position, was looking toward him, mouth open in a scream, pointing to the stern of the ship. Something was wrong with the underside—the fabric seemed to be rippling, sagging. At that same instant his stomach lurched.
Flying Cloud
was falling.

He pulled back on the stick. Nothing! The cables had severed.

Seconds before he had been nosing the ship over, now the stern was dropping as the rear gasbag spilled its contents in a swirling ball of fire. For a brief instant the bow surged up. From the aft end of the ship flames were racing straight at the gondola cab. Suddenly the bottom of the ship astern peeled back, erupting into a shimmering blue haze of fire.

His gaze locked on Feyodor, who stared at him wide-eyed with terror.

"Get out!" Jack screamed. "Everyone get out!"

"We're going to burn!" Feyodor cried.

Jack scrambled to the middle of the cabin. Unbolting the escape hatch, he kicked it open.

"The umbrellas Ferguson made, we've got to use them!"

"Like hell," Feyodor screamed.

"It's that or burn!"

Jack grabbed hold of Feyodor and dragged him to the hatch. The ship was dropping, bits of burning fabric swirling around the gondola. A burst of heat washed over him, and he saw the fireball racing toward them. Still connected to his speaking tube, he could hear Stefan screaming, trapped on the topside of the ship.

"Stefan! Jump, damn it, jump!"

He tore the speaking tube off and, still hanging on to Feyodor, leapt through the escape hatch. Feyodor fell and lay spread-eagled across the hatch, arms and legs still inside the ship. Dangling in the air, Jack looked up and saw the fireball explode through the cab. Feyodor instinctively pulled his hands in to cover his face. He started to fall through the hatch, and, an instant later, the two were free, Jack still clinging to his friend. They fell away from the ship, which seemed to hover in the sky above them. He let go of Feyodor and started to fumble with the fifty-pound bag strapped to his back.

There had been times when the inventor, Chuck Ferguson, had driven him damn near to distraction, but at this instant all he could do was fervently pray that this latest idea of his worked. Jack found the heavy metal ring, grabbed hold, and pulled. Nothing happened!

He looked over at Feyodor, who was tumbling end over end, a dozen feet away. His gaze shifted upward. The airship was falling, and, in spite of his terror, he felt a surge of anguish.
Flying Cloud
had carried him safely through twenty missions deep in Bantag territory, and now it was dying. To his horror he saw a small object falling away from the ship, wrapped in flames ... it was Stefan. The boy was on fire and falling.

He turned his gaze away, refocusing on his own plight. He reached around to his back and could feel the flap on his backpack, but nothing was coming out. Cursing at Ferguson for not testing the damn idea more thoroughly, he reached over his shoulder and dug his hand into the silk fabric within as he plummeted into the clouds . . .

"Your move, Andrew."

Andrew Lawrence Keane, commander of the Armies of the Republic, stirred from his thoughts and looked over at his old friend, Dr. Emil Weiss.

"What was that?"

Weiss smiled and nodded toward the chessboard.

"Your move, Andrew."

"Oh, of course." Absently he picked up his queen and moved it forward, taking Emil's bishop.

Emil shook his head. "And you the famous general." He sighed as he moved his own queen down the length of the board.

"Check and mate in one, my friend."

Andrew said nothing and just stared at the board. Normally he considered himself a fairly good chess player. Back when he was a professor of history at Bowdoin College he had taken it as a point of pride that he could beat any student who challenged him.

Andrew reached over and, with a touch of his finger, knocked over his king, thus signifying his withdrawal from the game. He looked up at the clock ticking on the wall. It was past midnight. His gaze continued to wander around the room. The map of the eastern frontier filled one entire wall, blue pins and tape marking positions of his units, red pins the suspected positions of the Bantag. He studied it intently for several minutes, Emil saying nothing.

His headquarters office was spartan, maps lining the walls, piles of documents arrayed on shelves behind his desk, a collapsible cot in the far corner opposite the woodstove. Hans Schuder, boots still on, was sprawled on the cot, slouch cap covering his face, snoring softly. Some of the men with Ferguson's team had made the cot as a special present, making sure it was long enough for Andrew's wiry six-foot-four frame. His staff made a point of trying to brighten up the office with the flowers which seemed to be part of the Rus soul, and one of his boys made sure that fresh blossoms were arranged daily in an empty vodka bottle on his desk. The blooms were alien and exotic, brilliant reds, greens, and blues, wild-flowers of an alien world, their scent rich and sweet. Woodcut prints from
Gates's Illustrated Weekly
had been carefully clipped and pegged to the wall devoid of maps, scenes from the rescue of Hans, the launching of the newest ironclad on the Great Sea, and, from just last week, a picture of
Flying Cloud
on its deepest penetration into Bantag territory, having flown within sight of the factory complex where Hans had been kept prisoner.

And now Jack's gone, damn it. Standing up to stretch, Andrew walked to the door, opened it, and looked into the next room. The telegrapher was at his station . . . fast asleep, cap pulled low over his eyes to block out the glare of the kerosene lamp. Two orderlies were stretched out on the floor, one of them stirring, looking up, ready to get to his feet. Andrew motioned for him to be still and, closing the door, looked back at Emil.

"Even though it's been four days, I still half expect to see Petracci walk back in. Hard to believe we've lost him.
Flying Cloud
was the last of our airships. We're blind now."

Reaching across the table, he took the bottle of vodka from Emil's side of the board, poured himself a shot, and downed it.

"Jack, Feyodor, Stefan . . . damn all to hell."

Emil said nothing in reply. All of the news had been bad of late, the buildup of enemy shipping in their fortified port of Xi'an, the news earlier this day that the Bantag Horde had cut off Nippon, even the political side of things, with the adroit maneuvering of the human ambassadors sent by Ha'ark the Bantag leader to divide the Republic against itself.

"The fall of Nippon," Andrew sighed, leaning forward to play with the pieces on the chessboard. "They can come at us now from one of two ways. I need to know which one it is, and we're blind." As he talked he propped his king back up, then maneuvered Emil's queen and rooks.

"East around the sea," he said softly as he moved the queen off to the upper right corner of the board. In his imagination he could see the positioning. Nippon was several hundred miles to the east. If they had pushed the rail line aggressively, the way he wanted, and the hell with internal politics, they might have made it out to them in time, shipped in arms, and started building an army. The Nippon population was big enough that he could have fielded twenty divisions from their ranks within a year. With those twenty additional divisions, no Ban-tag army could ever have challenged them.

"Damn, if only we had pushed the rail line through to Nippon."

"If wishes were horses . . ." Emil replied. "And besides. We're not talking about the old days, when we could have thrown smoothbore muskets in their hands, trained them for a month, then lined them up and had them bang away. War is getting too damn complex now.

"The units they've let us see are still armed the old way, with bow and lance, but remember everything Hans told us. They have factories, breechload-ing rifles and artillery, and those damn land cruisers. Even if we had gotten to Nippon in time, we would have been hundreds of miles out on a string pulled taut and ready to snap. It might have been a repeat of the First Roum Campaign, but only worse, far worse. Cut the rail line anywhere along that three-hundred-mile stretch, and you would have been finished."

"What you're saying is that the Nippon were doomed from the start."

Emil shook his head sadly.

"It's like the classifying of the wounded I do during a battle. Those who can take care of themselves for a while, we hand them the bandages, give them a little morphine, and tell them to wait. It's deciding about the other two, who will we try and save and who do we set aside to die because they're too far gone, that still breaks my heart every time I do it."

He looked away, and yet again Andrew sensed the all-so-different side of the war that Emil, his own Kathleen, and the other doctors experienced. In spite of his loathing for it all, there were still moments that seemed to transcend the brutality and revealed to him, yet again, the inner workings of his soul.

The eternal question he had wrestled with for ten years was before him yet again . . . what am I? Though I loathe war, I know I would be somehow lost without it. All that I am now was formed in the crucible of battle. How I prayed for peace, and yet how I felt somehow incomplete when peace came, as if I was a machine of Mars, packed away but only until the bugles called again.

"It's that moment when I have to look into a boy's eyes," Emil said, interrupting his thoughts. "It's that horrible moment when I have to lie as convincingly as I can that I'll be back later to take care of him, but that there's others who are hurt far worse . . ." His voice trailed off into silence for a moment.

Andrew felt a wave of guilt for what he had just been musing about.
Gates's Illustrated Weekly
had printed hundreds of pictures of heroic struggle on the battlefields of the Republic, but they had never done one of the operating room, the battlefield that Dr. Emil Weiss fought upon. That was the other side of the equation which he had seen often enough. A man would go down by his side. There was the stunned moment of disbelief, shock in the wounded soldier's eyes, disbelief that it had finally happened, and then the fumbling at the clothes to see how bad it was. Funny, you could never really tell in those first few seconds until you actually saw the damage inflicted on your body; then you knew. A veteran, one who knew about wounds, would examine himself, and there might be a smile of relief, a sense that it was bad but he'd still make it. For the others, though, their gaze would suddenly unfocus, as if they were already seeing into the other land. And even though the doctor lied, both of them somehow knew.

He remembered his own moment, the retreat off Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg, the few survivors of the Thirty-fifth gathered round him, and then the shell all but tearing his left arm off. The last he could remember was lying on the ground, looking up at his men, the regimental flag above them fluttering in the afternoon breeze, shot-torn and wreathed in battle smoke, then a fading away into the darkness, to awake with Emil sitting by his side, breaking the news that the arm was gone forever.

"You can't save the whole world, Andrew Keane."

Andrew tried to reason with himself that his frustration was coldly pragmatic, a hundred thousand potential troops for his army lost, in large part because of the shortsightedness of the government. But no, it was far more, far more . . . the thought of the Horde riding into yet another city, the division between those who will live a little longer, and those who will go immediately to the slaughter pits. He had hoped that somehow they could push the railroad ahead of the Bantag, lay rails faster than the Horde could move, then finally swing south, cut them off, and rescue millions, tens of millions. But the Horde had been the one to do the cutting off. As long as the Bantag held the way to the east and south, all those behind them were now doomed.

BOOK: Never Sound Retreat
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