In such dangerous things as war the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst.
-General Karl von Clausewitz
Haynes gave his spine a quick adjustment, pushing his stomach out and driving his hands into the small of his back. Command vehicles were known for being cramped, but it felt like they had stuffed the entire HQ into the back of the vehicle and brought it with them. In front of him, a small table stacked with papers lay, and beyond that, the crew of the vehicle huddled amidst enough C and C and radio equipment to run a small army.
Appropriate, since that was precisely what they were doing. Sitting just to the rear of the staging area, the rear door down and letting in the morning air, General Haynes found himself surrounded by all the sights and sounds of an army ready to deploy. Though things were relatively calm at the moment, the energy was undeniable. Now was the time before everything hit the fan, when the tanks and troop carriers began to roll out and hit the field full on. It was a time of quiet contemplation, a time to nurse the last-minute thoughts and doubts.
A small clink a few feet away drew his attention away from the maps and assorted papers spread across the table. He looked up to see the eyes of a meek-looking Private setting a cup down before him, the thick brown contents sending steam wafting up towards him.
“Coffee, General?” he said, stepping back from the table.
“Thanks, Private,” Haynes said with a smile, and took a few generous sips. He noted the intense bitterness, but was thankful that it at least had some milk in it. Though they could hardly be accused of growing anything comparable to what had been available in the old days, the local farmers were still to be commended for trying their hand with coffee beans. And it was good to know that some luxuries were still afforded to them these days…
Placing the cup down, he went back to the first of several annotated maps before him. The first was map of the region’s main highway and the various towns that dotted the landscape, with Espanola featured most prominently in the upper right. On the one beneath it and sticking out at the edge, the 200th Infantry Brigade’s staging area was featured, as well as the comparatively small township of Sombrillo, and the first objective of the day. On these and the others that made up the pile, the name Rolling Thunder was scrawled in the lower right hand margin.
Around the map, several aerial photographs lay, all of them rendered in the bright white, black and grey hues of infrared.
The sight of these once again made him sigh, particularly the way the streets showed virtually no traces of heat signatures. None of the bright whites that denoted uninfected, or the mottled greys that usually denoted Whiskeys.
Beyond that, there were pictures taken by the same reconnaissance flight of the hamlets of Cuartelez and La Puebla. These were much the same, appearing dark except for a few patches which appeared to be fires burning themselves out in open areas. In all likelihood, these areas had been overrun, but they were not his main concern right now. Once the main objective had been taken, these areas could be cordoned off, cleared and repopulated with ease.
In the end, the first phase of the operation came down to Sombrillo. As the largest settlement, and the one that straddled the highway and connected several other arteries of traffic to it, it was the gateway. 2nd Battalion was already poised to push back in Espanola by the southern road, but to ensure that they enveloped all the infected inside the town, he needed 1st pushing in from the east. Only then could they expect to deal a permanent and crushing blow on the bastards, and ensure they could not possibly escape.
He looked once more at the image of Sombrillo. From all outward appearances, the walls were still intact, but that didn’t mean the infected couldn’t have found another way in. They were good that way, and it only ever took one…
It was little wonder then why he had organized their advance the way he had. Moving the photos aside, he looked back to the main map, studying the icons and lines of advance that were emblazoned on it. The units that made up the 200th Rattlensakes sat in the lower right corner, their designations printed beneath them. Reaching out, a long series of solid and dotted lines ran, representing the entirety of Rolling Thunder. Its every action and contingency, those that could be foreseen at any rate, planned out in detail.
“Sir?” another voice called to him. He looked up to see the face of Colonel Coombs standing there, his arms crossed behind his back. He knew instantly what he was about to say, but let him say it anyway. At moments like this, one had to respect the procedural details. They made things feel more official. “It’s time, sir.”
“Good,” he replied curtly. “Give the go order to all units. Commander order: Siren.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the Colonel, and turned around and stepped to the vehicles open rear door. Poking his head outside, he began barking orders to the communications crews sitting in their radio huts.
“All stations. Command order: Siren!”
The radio operators obliged and began calling the code word in. Within moments, the sounds of engines firing in the distance would be heard – an entire squadron of A-10s and AC-130s powering up their engines and getting ready to enter the target area to provide overwatch and close air support. Since they were based back in the capitol, the planes had a head start, and would begin deploying in waves to conserve fuel and ordinance for the big fight.
He checked his watch to mark the time. 0500 hours, right on schedule.
Within fifteen minutes, he would issue the second code word, Thunder, at which point, the ground forces would start moving.
Haynes took a deep breath and finished the last of his coffee. The charged liquid quickly entered his bloodstream, contributing to his already escalating heart rate. He had to admit, it felt good. After weeks of planning, preparing, and resupplying, the troops were finally committing to their first offensive under his leadership. The transition had been difficult, and he knew the grunts were nursing their own share of worries. But alas, they were his troops now. And watching them enter into their old stomping grounds and liberating it at last would finally silence any and all lingering doubts about who was in command.
I never asked to replace him¸ he thought, thinking at last of his fallen superior. But I will not shrink from the role that has been thrust upon me.
Perhaps, in time, Thur would recover fully and return to his old command. Until such time, Haynes knew he would do the job, and do it right. In his hands, the Rattlesnakes would emerge from this latest setback victorious. He couldn’t let it be otherwise…