Authors: Chris Bunch
“I saw ‘em,” Dill said.
“As did I,” Froude said. “I was wondering if they couldn’t be put to use. Unlike you fiends, I don’t love hiking as my primary pastime.”
“So the drill is,” Garvin said, “we make up the demo packs now. Set them on remote timers, which’ll give us all the options.
“At full dark, we’ll drop down and snag two boats. Three men per boat. Two stay-behinds here with the packs.
“There’ll be a moon, so we’ll row along the shoreline to the far side of the dam. Then we drop two twenty-kilo packs close together, by the penstock. Two lucky lads get to climb up the pipe and stick two more packs as close to that structure … I guess it’s the control room for some kind of hydropower … as they can get.
“Once the charges are in place, everybody except, uh, Monique, me and — ”
“And me,” Dill said.
“And you, Ben. You can carry me when I get tired. The rest of the rowing party heads back here after the charges are planted and waits until we rendezvous. We reassemble, with luck, and go for the hills and wait for the smoke to clear. The Rendezvous Point will be where we slept last night. Simple, straightforward, in and out.”
“No it isn’t,” Nectan said. “You haven’t given deployment orders for two of us.”
“You are correct,” Garvin said. “Monique and I are going to slither off right now and eyeball the joint from up close. We’ll signal if there’s any nasty surprises, like sentries, tracks, aircraft, IR/available light alarms, like that, and deal with them as seems appropriate. If there’s a real cluster, we’ll com from the dam to abort and rethink things.”
“Another thing,” Irthing said.
“Are we going to paddle with our bare hands? Or did anybody think to see if either of those catamarans have oars.”
“Crudoo!” Garvin muttered. “I
“There are oars,” two voices said, in near unison, and Lir and Froude grinned at each other.
“That’s,” Garvin said ruefully, “why we have First
. And scientists.”
“Another question,” Dill said. “Who is going with me to scale the heights with the big boom?”
“As junior man on this thing,” al Sharif said, “I’ll volunteer.”
“That’s it,” Garvin said. “Monique and I’ll be waiting on top of the dam for you folks. Al Sharif, after the charges are set, get your butt back down into the boat. Dill, you’ll stay with us, like I said.
“See how easy a briefing is,” Garvin beamed, “when you don’t have good maps, don’t know the size of the enemy, his plans, deployment, SOI, or anything else?
“ ‘Kay. Nectan, you’re Senior
. Take charge of things. You think you’ll have any trouble stealing the boats?”
“If he does, I’ll give him advice,” Montagna said. “I was a swim instructor when I was a kid.”
She grinned at Garvin, who smiled back. Time back, when he’d run the patrol set up as a graduating exercise for I&R trainees that ended in a nightmare of blood, and began the Musth War, Garvin had admired, in a very casual way, her clean athleticism and quick manners. She reminded him, vaguely, of a girl he’d known, far back in school, who the other students had been in awe of — a bit too pretty, a bit too bright, and more than a bit too mature for the others. But, of course, he’d said and done nothing about that to Montagna, since she was enlisted, and he was an officer. Besides, at the time, he was mourning the seeming loss of Jasith, and his observations about the trainee weren’t much more than academic.
“Honk us up when you’re in motion, Wy.” Garvin got up. “Everybody who can’t find work, get your head down.”
There were murmurs of amusement. No one would have time to sleep, even if they had the inclination, after the explosive packs were readied, weapons cleaned, magazines checked, knives sharpened, and other forms of death readied.
“C’mon, Lir,” Garvin said. “We’ve got klicks to go before we sleep.”
• • •
“I’ve seen better formations,” Monique Lir said, lowering her binocs, “from shithouse flies around a bucket.”
“Not too military,” Garvin agreed. “Thank Saint John of the Apukalypse.”
There appeared to be about a hundred or so guards assigned to the dam, quartered in a small compound about half a kilometer away from it.
“You also notice how nice and sloppy roll call was?” Lir continued. “Half of ‘em were still straggling out of the mess hall when whatever his rank is was shouting names.”
“I love ‘em just the way they are,” Garvin said. “You also notice the troopies live downstream of the dam. With any luck, our bang’ll wipe ‘em out, and we won’t have to worry about pursuit.”
“With any luck,” Lir agreed, returned to her survey. “I count one, two pickups on this side of the ramparts, which oughta be easy to Rat-Fiddle.”
“Looks like a third, or some kind of pressure detector, just beyond that fence gate,” Garvin said.
“I got it.”
They watched on, as the sun sank behind a mountain, and shadows grew across the dam. Men came out of one building and formed up.
“I guess that’ll be the sentry-go,” Garvin said. “Sixteen men, plus a noncom. Yeah. There they go. Eight posted on this side, eight on t’other, two walking.”
“I guess whatever invisible thing me and Alikhan got bothered by isn’t reporting on schedule,” Lir said.
“Keep your fingers crossed when you say that.”
“What, give it another couple of hours, and slide down then?”
“Don’t be so ambitious. We’ll move out when Nectan says he’s amphibious. ‘Til then, sweet dreams.”
Garvin rolled over on his pack, closed his eyes, and gave every pretense of being asleep.
Monique looked at him skeptically, did the same.
After two minutes, she began snoring in a very soft, catlike style.
• • •
Darod Montagna swam silently to a fishing boat, arms and legs moving underwater as she’d learned as a girl. Only one of Kura Four’s moons was out. Montagna waited until a cloud scudded over its face, climbed over the side of a boat, untied the painter to the anchor buoy, and shipped the rudder. Keeping low, she slowly and awkwardly rowed the boat, about six meters long, away from the village, toward the distant bulk of the dam. Seconds later, another boat followed her.
She was sweating heavily by the time she rounded the nearby point and zigged the boat toward shore. In the shallows, six men and women came out of the brush, lifted heavy packs into the boats, and climbed in.
“Moving,” Nectan muttered into his throat mike.
A double-click from Garvin answered him.
• • •
Garvin and Monique slid through brush past the guard shack, then made their way through a few strands of rusting barbed wire up toward the dam’s parapet. The two standards with an intrusion sensor and pickup were just where a road crossed the dam’s rampart. Garvin slipped across the road to one pole, clipped a tiny rubberized box to its power line, and turned it on. Clamps dug into the line, probed deep. Lir planted a second device on the other line. The signal from the pickup was recorded. Any change or break in the real transmission would be blocked, and the normal transmission sent out form the device’s internal power supply.
The pressure sensor, if that was what it was, had been carelessly laid, and it was easy to tiptoe past it.
Lir positioned a small pack against the parapet, facing inward.
Then they crouched along the rampart, about four hundred meters of curving concrete with low walls to the far shore, the rampart fifteen meters across. Close to the other side was the square concrete control room.
Somewhere before that would be the roving guards.
• • •
Baku al Sharif looked up at the dam walls, towering darkly above him, and shivered. Nectan, beside him in the bow of the boat, felt the movement, gripped his arm reassuringly. The other boat was about two meters to the side.
• • •
The guard stared out and down at the water pouring out of the power station far below into the rocky canyon and down the valley, calculating exactly how many more times he’d have to look at these goddamned backwoods until his enlistment was up. He thought about saying something to his fellow, but that’d only get a mock about how much longer he had to go, and how eagerly his friend was looking forward to his transfer out of here in only a month and some-odd days.
Something bulked out of the darkness. The guard had no time to unsling his blaster before a knife drove up and into his guts, driving his breath out. He was trying desperately to pull in air, then his head flopped back and he was dead.
Garvin pulled the knife out, resheathed it, as Lir’s victim gurgled the last of his life out of his slashed throat.
“Come in. It’s clear,” he said into his mike.
• • •
Montagna and Irthing in one boat, Mahim and Dill in the other, activated detonators on their packs, sliding them into the water against the dam’s rear. The explosives sank quickly, down to the deep, muddy bottom, close to the concrete.
The boats bumped against the dam, next to the penstock piping, huge ribbed tubes over a meter in diameter. Al Sharif braced on one pipe and clambered out of his boat, while Dill tossed his pack atop another pipe, pulled himself onto the dam, braced against the ribbing.
The moon came from behind a cloud, and al Sharif saw Dill motion upward with his chin. They shouldered their packs, and started upward. The grade was about 80 percent, but the ribbing on the pipes every half meter or so made it fairly easy to pull themselves upward.
Nectan, below, motioned the other boat to pull back, away from the dam’s face. He should’ve headed for the shore, but waited, in case one of the climbers fell.
Al Sharif went up and up, climbing easily, getting his second wind. Dill paused, feeling the strain in his arms, adjusting his pack strap, and let the
go past him.
They were twenty meters above the water, thirty, forty, and the parapet was above them, and to the right the control house.
Al Sharif reached the top, slid out of his pack straps, and rolled the heavy pack over, onto the rampart. He reached back, grinning, to give Dill a hand he really didn’t need when a man came out of the control room, lifting a blaster.
Al Sharif heard the scuffle of his boots, turned, saw the leveled gun, put his hand up to push away the bolt just as the man shot him in the face. Al Sharif was instantly dead, falling.
Ben Dill had him by the back of his collar, knee all that was holding him on the dam face, his other hand grabbing the monstrous handgun he always carried. It went off with a crack, as the blaster above was swinging toward him, and the man spun, fell.
Dill felt his center of gravity overbalance, was about to fall. He let his knees sag, regained his balance. He stuffed the pistol inside his shirt, scrabbled for a hold, concrete tearing at his hand. He had a grip then, and, dragging al Sharif’s body, he went up the pipe and over the parapet.
There were two darknesses coming toward him, and he reached for the pistol.
“Sibyl,” one of them said, and he recognized Garvin’s voice. Dill took one look at al Sharif’s head, most of which was missing, and let the body drop.
“No,” Garvin said. “Over the far side with him. We don’t want anyone to know if we took hurt.”
Dill hurled al Sharif’s body over the parapet, down into the rocky valley.
They heard shouts, saw lights coming toward them along the rampart beyond the control room.
“Ben,” Garvin said, “take care of the charges. We’ll sort these people out.”
Dill grabbed al Sharif’s pack and went, a crouching bulk in the night, into the open door.
Garvin and Lir flattened, slid the safeties off their SSWs, and opened fire. Bolts spat down the rampart, ricocheted off concrete, exploded into bodies, and the screaming began.
“Back of us,” Monique said, turning, seeing the rest of the guards running toward them, idiotically illuminating themselves with portable lights.
Garvin thumbed a grenade, lofted it toward the first eight at the control room, sent another behind it. After the double explosion, even his ringing ears couldn’t hear any sounds of life.
Then Monique sent most of a drum across the bridge, into the second guard element.
Dill trotted out of the control room. “Anytime you want to depart’s just fine with me.”
On the other side of the dam, lights were going on in the guards’ compound.
“ ‘Kay,” Garvin said, changing drums. “I guess we’ll take our chances on whatever’s on this side, and figure out some way to cross back over when we’re clear.” He touched his mike. “This is Garvin. One Keld Ind Alf. Where are you?”
“Look down,” Nectan’s voice came, bone-inducted against Garvin’s breastbone.
He did, saw the two boats waiting.
“Goddamned insubordinate bastards,” he growled happily, pulling rope from his pack, double-looping it around a finial on the parapet.
“Monique. You go.”
“That’s an order!”
She gave him a foul look, but slid quickly down the rope, and a boat came to meet her. Dill followed.
Garvin let about a hundred rounds chatter down the parapet, just as, in the boat, Monique Lir triggered the small charge of explosive she’d left just on the far side of the pressure sensor.
Jaansma slung his SSW and rappelled down the dam’s rear. He let himself go too fast, burned his hands, splashed into water to his knees, and hands were grabbing at him, pulling him into the boat.
“Row like hell,” he said. “I want to get this thing over with.”
• • •
The Kuran soldiers might have been sloppy, but no one could slight their bravery. The ranking noncom, all officers down in the brief firelights, crept forward, some of his men behind him, the others across the rampart.
No one shot at him, and he saw no movement ahead.
He rolled the igniter on an illumination grenade, threw it far ahead. It went off, and he saw nothing but sprawled bodies.
• • •
The two boats had reached the shore away from the control room, on the same side of the lake as the guards’ compound, when Garvin saw the flare of the illums.