Promoted to Exile: part two
Promoted to Exile
Or do I have it wrong, Herward asked himself. Is outrage passion, and hate…the flip side of love’s coin, well known to be. Enduring, then. He hadn’t loved Vonnie. Mr. Jocelyn’s government (Jocelyn today probably living high, on his pariah’s island), had agitated for what he’d called justice. He’d wanted the three nations bordering their own, and with whom they’d long allied themselves—for trade, for peace (defense), for the sharing of intelligence—to subordinate theirs to his regime, allow his zealots, his gang of relics, to call the shots. All that was war-mongering, and Herward, a graduate student then, had loathed it.
The war had been short and humiliating. The G.R.A., with their social science, now systematically were dissolving every tie, unnaming everything, relocating everyone, rooting and branching all rebellion. Many rebels remained Jocelynists. The Hidtha would treat only with the Palmists. But General Palma and the Ftheorde had stirred them, their old wish for independence. The Utdrife had been crossing back to the peninsula, to the rumored training camps.
Today, he’d given Byrnes an order to assemble her squadron, in snow fatigues, with their gear: radios, transponder belts, grenades and button bombs. Herward had it in mind to patrol a mile or so down the mountain, this the Hidtha named Meorsbicht’er, otherwise Miner’s Peak—otherwise, under the G.R.A., 27*A. The soldiers would fan out and reassemble at the observation post. What he wanted, and it was necessary to share this plan with Byrnes, was a prisoner to interrogate. He hoped the Hidtha would be drawn. He could see nothing in the future preventing a daily repetition of the exercise.
“When you see them, are they usually alone…or do they go in pairs?”
“We don’t see them,” she said. “The camera picks them up. Didn’t anyone ever tell you how they tunnel? If the snow is fresh we might radio for a Vortice to blow it off with the rotor wash. I never saw it do much good. They thin out the crust from underneath…and you know, it’s really easy to dig snow. It’s like they watch, to see when you’re just about to step on top of a tunnel.”
“And what are they using? Field glasses?”
She shrugged. He hadn’t got the culture of this outpost yet. They might feel, as often small units left to fend for themselves did, that they’d earned the right to dispense with courtesy. That they were a wolf pack, up here, in their ice cave.
But he said it, anyway, voice mild. “I didn’t hear you, corporal.”
“We don’t know, Sergeant Herward.”
“I want you to think,” he told the soldiers, when they stood in formation outside their Quonset hut barracks. “We’re going to turn their tactic around on them, if we can. You figure within twenty meters, going forwards and backwards from the…hole, we’ll call it…there will be a tunnel. We want to cut that off. Think about what kind of equipment will facilitate getting in and out fast. No one’s tried this.”
“We going down the tunnel?”
This again wanted correction, but Herward wasn’t giving them a line to mimic, when at night in their bunks they talked about him.
“Someone wants to know if we’re going down the tunnel.”
In fact, this was a chance to keep a straight face and let them work it through. Commit or fall apart. Herward had thought of it, that these tunnel yarns, growing in elaboration—Byrnes’s scary picture of snowpack caving under your feet, the warren of passages and shelters, that no one could give proof of—might be his hazing. It could be a number the Hidtha were doing on the unit. And he knew of no reason it might not be true.
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)