World War IV: Alliances- Book 0, страница 5
Deckhands lowered the men into the black water below, and the small excursion boat thudded against the waves. Lance sat in the bow, the four men with him rowing. He instructed Canice to stay behind. If something were to happen to him, he needed someone he could trust to make sure his brothers knew what happened.
They landed on the opposite side of the narrow barrier peninsula that blocked the view of the rest of the island, and climbed the barnacled rocks to the top. Lance was the first to gaze into the cove, and what he saw nearly caused him to slip to his death.
Dozens of ships were anchored in the shallow bay, and all of them mounted with cannons and men to load the lead. Lance had a clear view of the ship closest to them and the men on deck carrying crates to the cargo hold. From the top of the rocks, they looked like a line of ants, carrying their goods back to the nest.
Lance signaled for the men to head for shore, and thirteen soundless bodies crawled along the side of the rocks toward the sand. The show of Chinese force in the bay was enough to take the northern Australian port of Brisbane, which would be Lance’s first stop if he were in charge of the armada.
The thick tree line on the island provided good cover once they made it to shore. Lance slapped a bug against his neck and kept low as he led the men through the jungle. The humidity was thick enough to swim in, and the sweat rolling down Lance’s face stung his eyes aiming for the outskirt of the camp, glowing with the burn of fires and lanterns.
Lance stopped just before the cover of tree and bush ended, right next to a tent where shouts of Chinese echoed through the thin cloth. His Chinese was rusty, but he listened for anything that sounded familiar.
The tent emptied of Chinese men dressed in military garb, and Lance looked for any more shadows against the backdrop of the canvas and motioned for the others to stay put. He flattened himself against the sand near the crack at the bottom of the tent to make sure no one else had lingered behind, but saw nothing but chair and table legs. He lifted the tarp and rolled inside. Muffled voices sounded from outside the front of the tent as he made his way over to the table centered in the middle.
Light flickered and waned on dozens of papers, most of them maps of the Pacific islands and the Australian coasts and ports. Lance spread them on the table, examining the small figurines of ships that had been positioned on the maps. Lance’s jaw dropped as he saw more fleets positioned near the dead islands and off the northern Russian coasts, sitting dangerously close to the Alaskan fisheries that he and his brothers had established over the past five years.
The front of the tent flapped open, and Lance was greeted by two surprised Asian soldiers. Before they drew their weapons, Lance had his hand on the hilt of his sword and sliced the first man’s throat. But just before Lance offered the same fate to the soldier’s partner, he managed to let out a scream that alerted the rest of the camp before he joined his comrade, bloodied in the sand.
Blood dripped from Lance’s blade as he snatched the maps off the desk in a hurried frenzy. Sand kicked up from his roll underneath the tarp, and he didn’t break stride as he sprinted with the rest of the men through the jungle back toward the boats tied off on the rocky peninsula.
Alarms sounded along with shouts and gunfire as Lance navigated the rocky terrain. His feet slipped against the wet rocks, and he nearly fell to his death twice. Just before he made it to the boat, a bullet ricocheted off the rock to his left.
Lance pulled the pistol from its holster and fired into the clustering Chinese huddled at the shoreline. The rest of Lance’s men followed his lead, and the small cove grew wild with gunfire.
Two of the Aussies that had accompanied Lance were taken down before they made it to the boat, but they doubled the Chinese causalities in kind. Lance pulled anchor from the rocks and planted his foot firmly against the side of the sea stones and pushed off once his men were aboard.
The small boat bobbed up and down, heavy with its crew, who quickly grabbed the oars and paddled as fast as their arms would allow. The Chinese continued their relentless firing as Lance and his men started to put distance between them. Bullets splashed into the water, a few of them splintering the hull, catching one man in the leg.
Lance waved toward the Sani, hoping Canice was loading the guns, and just when the Chinese gunfire became too much, the first boom of a cannon thundered through the bay, and the heavy piece of iron crashed into the rocky peninsula, killing five Chinese in one strike and sending the rest for cover.
The Sani continued its barrage of the peninsula until Lance and the rest had made it safely back to the boat. The injured were loaded first, and Lance wiped the blood from his blade. “Canice! Start the boilers!”
Lance knew it would only be a matter of time before the Chinese put their warships on them, and with the number of vessels Lance saw in that cove, they’d need all the head start they could get.
The two Aussie boats were tied close by, and Danny and the other captain stood near the rail, shouting at Lance. “What’d you see?”
Lance waved his arms, but the first cannon fire from the Chinese ripped through the hull of Danny’s ship, killing a cluster of his men in the process.
The first Chinese warship had rounded the tip of the peninsula. Its cannon fire flashed in the night air with each explosion. A few of the shots barely missed the Sani, and Lance’s crew was on full alert, loading their weapons and pulling anchor.
Lance took the wheel and pressed the engines forward, the motion giving everyone on board a light jerk from the quick throttle. “I want the stern guns loaded and anything that’s not food, water, or lead tossed overboard.” Lance felt the adrenaline surge through his body with every explosion of the cannons and spray of the ocean on his face. His body and ship were once again soaked in war.
The ride back from the wastelands had left Dean with more questions than answers, and heavy one prisoner, closely guarded by his men, although he didn’t believe the man was in any condition to run.
The Black Rocks that had interrogated him had left him broken and bloodied, his body starved and weak. Dean couldn’t be sure if the man had a broken jaw, but he’d lain quiet in the wagon, with his wrists and ankles chained.
The only hope the prisoner offered Dean came in the form of a tattoo on his right forearm. At first Dean believed it to be just another bruise given by the Black Rocks, but once the blood and dirt had been wiped away, he could see the visible image of the stars and sickle painted on the man’s skin, matching the same description that Kit had told him he saw.
Aside from the blood and bruises, the prisoner was a tall man, well built, with blond hair. The man was filthy and in poor condition. But he had the look of a soldier, and Dean hoped there weren’t any more of him to have to deal with.
The crowds had already gathered by the time Dean arrived into the city. News of their journey had traveled quickly from the outskirts, and the people were eager to hear what Dean had found.
“Governor, was it the clans?”
“Is it war, Governor?”
All of the voices shared the same face of fear, and Dean did his best to calm everyone. “We have a suspect. He was severely beaten by the clans, but he matches the description we had of the raiders who killed my brother and his wife.”
An angry moan rippled through the crowd as everyone’s sights turned on the unconscious brute shackled in the middle of the convoy. Dean would have to keep him closely guarded now that they were back in the city. His brother was loved, and there would be more than a few who would be willing to kill the man for revenge.
“Governor.” One of his riders trotted to him. “We have word from your wife. She has everything ready at the infirmary. Although she wasn’t able to obtain all of the supplies you requested.”
“Why not?” But the man was hesitant to answer. “Speak up, or I’ll have you riding midnight sentry duty with the recruits.”
“The lady governor sent a shipment of med
Dean gritted his teeth and reined up on his horse, putting his heels into the mare. Dust kicked up from the gallop, and then he came to a skidding stop just outside the old hospital Kemena had turned into her own practice. Dean tied off the horse, and one of the nurses came out, dressed in a plain grey dress with a thick red cross painted on the front.
“Where is she?” The nurse quickly ceded and led him into the surgical room where Kemena stood, hands being gloved by one of her assistants, and a paper surgical mask draped around her neck. She looked like she had been scrubbed from head to toe, a far cry from Dean’s appearance. A wild thing with crazed hair, covered in dust, and his beard grown thick from a lack of attention.
“You shouldn’t be in here, Dean. Not like that.” Kemena turned and let the assistant finish tying off her apron.
“I need to speak with my wife in private.” Dean kept his voice calm. Most of the rage subsided the moment he saw her. But the rest of her staff took notice of Dean’s tone, and the room quickly emptied.
Kemena turned around as if nothing had happened. “Where’s the prisoner?”
“You sent supplies to the clans in the south?” Dean took a step forward, the dirt and mud from his boots leaving a trail behind him.
“Dean, you’re making a mess.” Kemena lowered her hands and made her way over to a sterilizing station, pulling the surgical tools, which steamed from a tray. “We’ve spent all morning preparing for your arrival. Now, I need to know what I’m dealing with. Your message didn’t give me much to work on.”
“You know about our agreement with the wasteland clans. We cannot undermine them by sending supplies to their enemy.” If that peace was jeopardized, then so was the railway that would connect the northwest and southeast and begin the process of uniting everyone under a common cause.
“The southern coast tribes are in no condition to war. And they’ve never been the aggressors against the wasteland clans. They sent an emissary while you were gone asking for help, so I offered them what I could.” Kemena arranged the tools to her liking then finally looked up at her husband. “I know the rules of your agreement, but we must think farther than just finishing the rail. If we want everyone to join us, then we have to give them a reason to trust us.”
Dean took a few more aggressive steps forward. “And giving away our supplies that our people need is a way for us to gain that trust? Kemena, we cannot risk so much in a time like this. We are in no position to start lending aid when we’re just now starting to take care of our own!”
Kemena slammed her fist on the operating table, and her anger surprised him. “You don’t think I know what it could cost us? You don’t think I know the cost of war? How many soldiers have I stitched up? How many deaths have I called in fields stained with blood? You know I have just as much right to make these decisions as you.” Strands of her auburn hair had come loose from the tight bun at the back of her head, her cheeks reddened with frustration, and she shook her head, her next words softer. “When Lance returns, we’ll have all we need to trade to replace the medical supplies I sent south. And it will buy us good will with the southern tribal leaders.”
Always one step ahead. It was in these moments when he remembered how much he loved her. The hard days of riding had left him irritable and frustrated, waiting for the answers to his questions. In all truth, Dean wanted nothing more than to take her right now. “Wise counsel.”
Kemena managed a smile. “I’ve learned from the best.”
Dean helped his men carry the prisoner into the operating room, where Kemena started her examination. He watched her for a moment through the glass, her deft hands running over the man’s body with ease. The concentration on her face, the way she commanded the room. This was her war, and she was the best general on the field. He left Kemena to her work and stepped outside.
The sun was still high, with plenty of time for work in the day, but the energy had been sapped from Dean’s body. Exhaustion washed over him, but he chose to go and check on the boys. He knew they would be curious to hear of what happened, and of all the people in the city, they deserved to hear the news from him firsthand.
“Governor Mars.” The voice that called after him seemed to shiver with cold even in the afternoon heat. When Dean turned around, he saw the historian he sent for, a teacher at the local school. “I received your message.”
“Professor Hawthorne.” Dean had always enjoyed the old man’s counsel. The professor had spent his life collecting books, reading, and taking into account their own history as it passed.
“I’ve looked into those symbols your nephews described, and I know where they’ve come from.”
Dean perked up. “Show me.”
Hawthorne pulled an old book from his bag and flipped to the page already marked. “It’s actually a combination of two symbols.” His wrinkled, liver-spotted hand circled the sickle on the first page. “This was the flag of the Soviet Union during their communist rule.”
Dean remembered some of the teachings during school, but the majority of his learning had been war. The shadows of battle had never really left his father, and he wanted to make sure his boys knew how to fight.
“And this,” the professor said, turning the pages, “was the flag of the Chinese Republic before the third world war.”
The same half circle of stars that he’d seen on the man’s arm, and the same one that Kit had described, was there in front of him. “An alliance.”
“Precisely.” The professor quickly dumped the book back into his sack and pulled out a notebook. “These are records of some of the generals of the third world war. In it, they reference an enemy with an alliance of regions in the east. China and Russia.”
Dean took a step backward, trying to gather his thoughts. If the same alliance was happening now, then could there be another war like the one his father had described? His mind drifted to the wastelands and the devastated southern Pacific Coast, and the crumbled cities of the northeast. All of it gone within minutes, along with billions of lives. He wasn’t sure if they would survive something like that again. And if the Russians were looking for a place to advance, then the Alaskan colonies could be in jeopardy.
The moment Jason’s ship made port, he jumped from the deck, landing on his two feet, and nearly kissed the ground in gratitude. While his brother Lance had lived for the sea, Jason had nearly lost his body weight in vomit on the trip down. The weather didn’t help either, with the two storms they had to battle through during the journey. But the port of Rio de Janeiro was worth the trip. The docks were alive with people, food, and music. It was an endless chatter of different dialects and faces. The Brazilian port was the busiest in the world.
While the wars of Jason’s grandfather had decimated much of his country, Asia, and Europe, the South American countries remained fairly untouched, save the millions of surviving refugees that flocked south to avoid the fallout. The resulting migration had made Rio de Janeiro the unofficial capital of the South American continent, and consequently the Brazilian president one of the most powerful and wealthiest men in the world.
Jason’s escorts flanked him on either side. His brother refused to let him leave his region without armed escorts. Even after warring, and the fact that he was the southeastern regional governor, he still felt Dean treated him like a child.
Robert, the man to Jason’s left, was a giant. He stood a foot above the crowd and drew more attention to himself than someone guarding a governor should in the first place. His arms were the size of oak trees, and his legs were redwoods. If the size wouldn’t deter an enemy from attacking, then Robert’s double-ended axe would. Jason had once seen him slice three men in half with one swing.
The escort to Jason’s right was around his size and build but faster. Jason had spent the better part of the trip trying to outdraw Chris during d
“I would have to sadly decline the governor’s request and promptly tell him that he can kiss my ass.” Chris smiled a toothy grin that seemed to spread from ear to ear.