Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 38

< Chapter 37                                                                                                 Chapter 39 >

A line of five hundred men and trogs advance across the desert toward the wreck of the Vanguard, where David and his men wait.

I looked from the wide line of approaching men and trogs to my own men gathered around the wreck of the Vanguard. A dozen crossbows and perhaps a hundred swords against four hundred swords and another hundred blaster rifles? It was quite literally bows and arrows against the lightning—only those wielding the lightning also had numbers on their side.

Speaking quietly, so only I could hear him, Captain Wright said, “We’re outmanned and they have superior weapons. These are brave men, sir, who will fight for you to the last man. But unless something unexpected happens, I do not see a happy outcome for us.”

“I won’t ask that of them, Captain, but I also won’t just give up without some attempt at a fight.”

“I expected no less, sir.” Wright inclined his head toward the men. “Perhaps you’d care to say a few words to the men before all hell breaks loose?”

“Give me your attention, men!” Silence fell as I called out. “By now you’ve heard the opposing force outnumbers us five to one. If the enemy was armed as we are, I’d take those odds all day, any day. But the enemy is not armed as we are. They have as many blaster rifles as we have men. I don’t know how we can defend against those. If—”

“Captain Rice, sir?” a young voice called from the crowd.

“Do not interrupt your commanding officer, Ensign Marlow!” Wright snapped.

“No, Captain,  it’s okay,” I said. “I was about to ask for suggestions. Chris, do you have an idea?”

“I think so, sir. Jade told me about the dust cloud you created with her family’s airship.” The girl stood to Chris’s left, her arm hooked through his. “If what her father told her is right, the dust sort of absorbed the blaster shots.”

“That’s right, Ensign, and if we had a working engine I’d be all for trying it again.” I pointed to the scattered remains of the Vanguard’s engines. “Unfortunately, we don’t.”

“I realize that, sir, but we do have buckets, a lot of men, and plenty of dust and sand. Couldn’t two or three bucket brigades throw up enough dust to do the job?”

I glanced over my shoulder. The advancing horde was still half a mile away and appeared content with their steady march forward. Looking back at Chris, I said, “It’s an interesting idea, Chris, but there’s no way we could throw up enough dust to protect an entire line of battle.”

“But we don’t need to protect the entire line, sir,” Chris said. “We just need to protect a dozen crossbowmen. If our best marksmen can shoot unhindered, maybe they can thin out the men with blaster rifles and make those men waste shots firing back.”

I stared at Chris for a moment, noting the big grin worn by Jade. Turning to Captain Wright, I said, “Select your dozen best marksmen. Have the rest of your men form into four bucket brigades and start filling buckets with dust.”

Wright immediately pointed out a dozen men, most of whom already had crossbows. Those men fell into technical discussions about range and wind and volley firing. I left them to it and made my way over to Chris and Jade.

I handed our lone blaster rifle to the girl. “You’re familiar enough with these that I want you handling it. Don’t try shooting through the dust, obviously.”

“Of course not.” Jade rolled her eyes but surprised me by adding, “Sir.”

“That was a good idea, Chris,” I said to the ensign. “Let’s pray it works.”

“It was your idea, sir, not mine. Not originally.” Chris smiled at the girl next to him. “Besides, Jade is the one who deserves the real credit.”

“Don’t listen to him, David, um sir,” Jade said. “I just said it was too bad we didn’t have a way to do that here. Chris did the rest.”

“So noted, Jade,” I replied. “Chris, you’re not in any condition to take part in the bucket brigade, so I want you to stay with Jade. If the situation gets too dangerous, get her out of here. Is that clear?”

Chris nodded.

“And if Chris says it’s time to go, you go with him, Jade.” I gave her a mock glare. “No sneaking off to look for lost sort-of boyfriends and no arguing. Right?”

“Right,” Jade answered.

“And if either of you comes up with any other ideas for defending ourselves, inform me immediately!”

As I turned away, Chris asked Jade, “Wait, that Forbose guy was your boyfriend?”

“Sort of. Maybe,” Jade responded. “But not anymore after what he did to you!”

The rest of the teenagers’ conversation faded into the background as Captain Wright and I inspected the bucket brigades and the firing positions chosen by the crossbowmen. Satisfied with the preparations, we watched the approaching line and waited.

“You know, if they had anyone with even rudimentary military instincts, they’d surround us before attacking,” Captain Wright noted.

“Thank God for small favors, Captain.”

He nodded and it was as if that was the signal our enemies had been waiting for. They broke into a trot and a few of the ones armed with blaster rifles took shots. None of those shots came close and the riflemen held their fire as the line closed in on us.

Then a roar rose from five hundred throats and Thor’s men charged!

Will Chris’s idea work? Find out in Chapter 39, coming Friday!