Battle over

How to End a War

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 25 Jul 2022


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Back at the highway he put a quarter of his troops to the task of cleaning up the battlefield, repeating the same speech he gave the lieutenant, that these fallen and wounded were all brothers, Russian and American alike, to be treated alike. They were to be bivouacked in separate buildings in the city center but with the same rations and care. Any women found were to be given comfortable and separate quarters,  well-guarded. The heavy armor would set up a tight perimeter around our little ‘green zone’.

I found a few groups of my bikers along the way standing by the road; despondent that they missed the shoot-out.

“Go take a look at what you missed and tell me that tomorrow.”

A few of them did, out of morbid curiosity.

We already knew that a part of this Russian army had splintered off to the south, just not how many. Wilde turned to me and asked if some of my men could tail them and report to us through the night on their direction and numbers. He also sent a large detachment east to scour the countryside for stragglers and wounded, to bring them in.

But his one burning question was the whereabouts of Johnson. I sent one gang to find out, telling them to head west before circling south or they’d run into the retreating Russians. They set off right away.

Wilde noticed this. He said: “Your men are sure quick to follow your every command. How’d you gain such respect? You’re not even like them, and they’re the most undisciplined rabble I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s all reputation” I told him, “whether deserved or not. But to them I’m ‘Lucky Luke’, infallible and always victorious. They think I see the future and can never guide them astray. It has to do with my past. Besides that, and much more effective, they know I really do care about them as human beings when no one else does. I remember their names. They call me ‘brother’ and we talk on a par. If you show any miscreant or outcast some honest, unconditional respect, they’ll love you for it.”

“I’ll remember that lesson, Luke, thank you.”

Our headquarters were set up in the lobby of a bank building, six stories high. Long tables and chairs were brought in for conferences and we had a staff of thirty for all our needs, mostly to collect and relay the intel coming in. Wilde had his office and I had a table near the entrance where my men would report in and be sent out again.

We knew this would be an all-nighter, dinner at our desks and constant queries, like a busy train station. I wished we had coffee, but no such luck, not even tea.

By midnight, with so many reports flowing in, the picture was becoming clear. I was sitting in Wilde’s office as we tried to sum up the data, pages of numbers his officers were tallying up like accountants, then rushing in and setting them on his desk. We needed these body counts to determine our next move.

Steel’s army was gone, obliterated off the map by his own folly. We didn’t waste time trying to fathom the motives behind his blunder. We had our own necks to save. But now we saw that it wasn’t all in vain. The numbers of Russians killed and vehicles destroyed were close to equal. There was no victorious side, just a mass, mutual slaughter. Two rabid hordes running at each other with pitchforks would have yielded the same result.

The reason for this was that their weapons were pretty much equal in strength and the few Russian planes quickly used up the last of their ammunition, proving my assertion from the day before.

As for the courage and caliber of their soldiers, I had to admit I was wrong. I thought our home advantage and our fight for our families would give us the upper hand over mercenaries far from home on some dictator’s whim. What erased those odds in our favor was a far more primitive trait of human nature.

We cornered their troops against a river and the pure survival instinct, bred in every human over millions of years, kicked in and made them fight like Tasmanian devils.

Wilde was amazed at my analysis and admitted no generals ever thought this deep in their war plans.

"I suppose I should have taken some courses in Psychology" he added.

"No" I said, "you wouldn't like them, not the technical ones. It's too complex. They don't even know what they're talking about. I took a few. The best way to grasp human psychology is to shut yourself in a library for a year and read the best book on every shelf. That was my program."

But now we descended to the hard facts. The Russians had left Boston with a land force of between ten and twelve thousand. Steele and his six thousand men were gone, almost completely vanished, erased off the chalkboard except for a few hundred stragglers or charmed survivors, fallen into some ditch when the fighting began and covered in corpses, to push their way out to daylight when it was over.

But from our counts, over seven thousand of the enemy had been killed. My bikers reported that four detachments from their army, varying in size from two to five hundred men and been sent in two directions before the battle, north and west. Another group had escaped to the east during the battle, along the side roads, perhaps the supply train. These were the last to leave Springfield, and not yet arrived when Steele’s army drove straight into the middle.

The one part of the Russian force to escape intact was the vanguard, with some of the best armor and tanks. When they heard the full onslaught and bloody fray behind them, they turned back, but when they saw the carnage, their commander ordered them to take the clear road south before all was lost. We didn’t know the strength of this force. A few of our riders guessed it might be two thousand strong, well equipped and organized and undamaged. But they couldn’t get a close look as there were stray soldiers everywhere, speeding down every road in their vehicles or hiding in houses and woods and firing at us. This force was our greatest concern. We figured this small army would turn east at some point and try to rendezvous with the fleet. It was their only chance of survival.

At two AM. one of my bikers burst in with a letter from Johnson. Wilde read it aloud. It was disturbing news. Johnson had been camped in New Jersey, in the woods near Hanover, hidden from airplanes and safe from the reaches of naval guns. But it was a stand-off, a stalemate, and he hadn’t been able to move in a month. The Russians had a land force occupying parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn with their destroyers in the harbors preventing any assault. It was hard for us to spy on them but from vague reports we suspected those forces numbered two thousand, with tanks and vehicles and plenty of food and gas.

The letter stated his men from the south were reluctant to head north and engage with us, leaving their own lands to the south totally unprotected. The morning of the battle he received word from a single rider that it was about to begin and he sent half his force, those from Providence to our aid. By mid-afternoon their advance scouts spotted the large Russian force retreating east so they turned back to their woods.

After hearing this I told Wilde: “It may sound cowardly, but he did the right thing. He’s protecting his army intact. After Steele’s mad rush he wouldn’t have made any difference if he did arrive five hours earlier, only adding to the carnage. I trust the man and we should join forces soon. He’s been put in a hard spot with too few to do anything, so he sat tight. But I wonder, only one of my twelve riders made it through to him. The Russians must have outposts throughout Connecticut and northern New Jersey, cutting him off. I sent Pirate Jack on that mission. I wonder which one of them made it through.”

Wilde could see I was a bit shaken at such a loss. I suggested we adjourn for a few hours of sleep before morning. Maybe a plan would come to us. A few of our staff stayed up for messages. The rest crossed the street to the Plaza Hotel, where the fine bed and pillow put me out like a light.

I awoke to a loud banging on my door. I answered it in my underwear and was overjoyed to see Captain Jack and Stalker standing in front of me. I ushered them in the room and ordered a huge breakfast buffet from a guard in the hall. He asked what I wanted from the kitchen and I told him everything, enough for ten, and to inform general Wilde next door.

We sat at a table, it was a large suite, and I heard their stories as we ate. Then Wilde sat down with us. Jack was the one who made it through. He said Russians were posted in small groups along the country lanes and heard them coming. They had night-vision googles and picked them off as they approached. He veered off road and made it to Johnson by driving through the woods, his headlight guiding him through the brush. But most of his riders turned back when their mates were shot. Four were dead and three wounded.

When Johnson read his orders at three am. he paced the floor, shaking his head, sending Jack back with only a verbal message saying he’d do the best he could. By the time he reached Burlington, again weaving through woods and fields, both generals were three hours gone.

“And since you’d left, general, my whole mission was a waste.”

“Jack,” I said, “you did a fine job. I’m sorry about your friends. We’ll never send you on such a suicide mission again. We’re learning from our mistakes. All’s not lost. I’m sure you’ve heard the news.”

Stalker broke in: “It’s nowhere near lost. I just came from Portsmouth with the news about the fleet stationed off Boston. That was my watch. Sheila arrived yesterday evening with two colonels to witness what was left after the bombings. The remnants of the fleet have sailed south. I saw the whole thing and filled them in. You see the planes didn’t return. All ten were shot down. We watched the battle from the lighthouse, front row seats.”

“Those pilots who sacrificed their lives did an amazing job. The jewel of the Russian fleet was their aircraft carrier, in the middle, surrounded by eight destroyers, with smaller ships surrounding them. Some had surface-to-air missiles and took out our first two bombers just as they rained down their bombs and sank them. The others circled out to sea and then back, straight for the prize in a ‘V’ formation. There were no cruisers out there. We sank the carrier and four destroyers, two of our planes kamikaze style, after their bombs were dropped in a hail of fire. I’ve never seen anything like it. Those pilots sure would have made great bikers.”

“So what's left” Wilde eagerly asked.

“Three destroyers, I think, one of them damaged, smoking, and smaller ships like cruisers. I don’t know ships, never been on one. But it was sorry leftovers, limping back to the south. Even some of the smaller craft were sunk. We watched the ships on fire and could see the sailors jumping overboard, some in life rafts headed for shore. I had twenty riders with me and we gathered them up at gunpoint, those we spotted. We collected two busloads and took them to Durham, fifty wet and worn-out prisoners. When Sheila arrived, she went straight to them, to interrogate. The strange thing about it, half of them are women. I didn’t know the Russians had female sailors.”

“Oh, and by the way, she sent me ahead with this news and said she’d be here soon. They’re expanding the hospital there, collecting supplies and everyone who can help.”

He spoke quickly, between bites, as if famished. When he got to the word 'leftovers' he paused, looked down and bolted half a sandwich of eggs, tomato and bacon in one bite, then kept going.

“Now they have no retreat” I said, “and probably few supplies left. I bet the Russian force that headed south has only one objective, to hook up with their brothers in New York. But they don’t know their fleet is in tatters. We don’t have a war on our hands anymore. We have a mopping up exercise. My advice to you general, is to offer terms of surrender very soon. It will save lives, theirs and ours. If we ask them to lay down their arms, with full amnesty and a chance to live here, start a new life on this wide continent, we’ll not only win, we'll gain a huge resource in manpower. In five years they’ll all be Americans. Make friends, not enemies. Look what I did with Jack and Stalker here and how well that worked out, while the narrow-minded brass would have wanted them in jail. We don’t have any jails in this country anymore and if I had to run it, we never will. There’s a place for everyone, a good place.”

Wilde stood up and shook my hand. “You’re right again Luke, you’re the prophet of clear and sane thinking. I’ll take your advice. I’ll collect all my staff right now and lay out your plan, make it an order. All the men we round up will be treated like our own. Just an hour ago I was taxing my head with defensive maneuvers, whether to send detachments back north to Montreal or to Boston, and the numbers didn’t add up, we have too few and they could block us from Johnson for months. But how do we send envoys with these terms. They might be shot at first sight?”

“Don’t send our men, send theirs. Let’s just shadow their movements for a week. We’ll have hundreds of prisoners by then and we’ll send the ranking officers in their jeeps with white flags as envoys, after we’ve treated them the way they’ll all be treated. They’ll be our best spokesmen, witnesses to our kindness and we risk nothing. They won’t be shot. We’ll give them time, maybe a huge parcel of land to cultivate. When they want to integrate, they can. We should collect some of our people with Russian roots and language and send them as go-betweens, ambassadors, translators, to live with them and acclimatize them to this land. And we should encourage intermarriage, one of them for one of ours. Alexander’s army did it with great results. That dictator in Russia has not only lost a war, he's just sent us five thousand new Americans.”

“You amaze me Luke, more every day. Let me get on this. You three enjoy the ‘Plaza.’ There are three empty floors above us and a swimming pool. All those rooms are yours. Invite all your boys in for a well-deserved rest. I’ll order the kitchen to ramp up and supply all your meals, on my tab. Have a party. It’s time to celebrate.”

With that he hurried down the hall.

Jack spoke first: “Well that’s mighty white of him. How many rooms do you suppose are upstairs?”

“There are at least twenty on this floor” I said, “so that makes sixty more. You should get the word out.”

“If only we had some booze” he mused, “that would make for a party.”

“I can handle that” I replied. “Greg, I have some business up north, at my old estate. Let’s take a few riders and a truck to my bunker. I’ll drive it. Miranda has my bike. We can drop in on her too. I’ll need a rider for a special delivery to Montreal, some pipe tobacco I promised. And he can bring back news of how my children are doing.”

Greg looked at Jack and said: “He’s not kidding. I hope you like vodka and aged bourbon.”

“Already had a taste of the stuff when we met. I remember it well. We’ll be waiting right here, the whole gang.”

We commandeered an army truck and its driver. I wanted to sleep on things while he drove, following Greg. We arrived at Barre late at night. Truckloads of wounded were being brought in and I didn’t want to bother them, so we continued to my place, arriving a few hours before dawn. We slept in the loft till mid-morning. We emptied the last of the food, the booze and tobacco into the truck, and sent two riders north to Montreal with a satchel of pipe tobacco and a few bottles of brandy and the news of the battle and our present situation.

On our way back I did visit Miranda. The wards were overflowing with the wounded, doctors and nurses rushing everywhere. As I made my way through the aisles of beds, I was heartened to see my advice was taken. There were Russian wounded lying beside our own, all receiving equal care. I could see that by the black boots at their bedsides, while our forces wore brown. I found her in the same long ward where Ron had been, but now she was she was wiping the brow of a young Russian girl hardly older than her, while watching the blood drips from the IVs of two other women in the beds on each side, so concentrated on her care that she didn’t notice me till I touched her shoulder.

We only exchanged a few words. She said she was needed here and had to stay. The young girl had a fever and kept saying ‘Thank you, thank you’ in Russian, looking up at her with big, watery eyes. I whispered that I’d be back soon and keep up the good work. A nearby doctor noticed who I was and told me she a great help. I asked about her patients, and he said one of the older ones might not make it, but the younger one had a fever from a flesh wound which antibiotics should cure in a few days.

Three hours later we were back in Springfield, the green zone all set up. I noticed a very long row of bikes in front of the Hotel. I let Greg deliver the supplies. It wasn’t much, ten cases of liquor and a dozen boxes of cigars and cigarettes, but enough to keep our boys happy for the night. Tomorrow we’d be on to new assignments and new adventures. I headed across the street to see general Wilde.

 

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Diomedes
Diomedes

B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.


Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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