First Draft Excerpt from 'Moving The Pieces'

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I left them to it. I didn't have time to waste with hand-holding. There were supply chain problems I had to deal with. Taman was a good enough accountant, but he was an accountant, not a production manager. We needed fuel and sheet metal and rivets and screws and nuts and bolts and washers (Oh my!) and everything else under the sun, and we had to keep getting deliveries even while the demons marched on the city. It was nearly as exciting as watching paint dry and completely without drama unless you're the sort that gets a thrill from baroque mathematical word problems, so I won't go into details. The big problem was that the pipeline and rail lines were likely to be cut before the demons reached the city, so I had to arrange for ships from Tabbraz and other ports to carry what we needed - and even assuming the city hadn't fallen before they got here, those ships weren't likely to get much of a return cargo, except maybe people desperate to escape the city, and we wanted at least the adult men to stay and fight. The supply chain problems ate most of the day.

About an hour before sunset, I got a call from the front gate. Seems there was a mob of people building who wanted passage out of Yalskarr. I couldn't really blame them, but there was only one ship in the Lesser Harbor at the moment - Yonshall's. Which was full, mostly of children. I didn't expect there'd be a whole lot of ships left in the Great Harbor, either. "Get me a microphone and a loudspeaker," I told them, "I'm on my way."

Security was in a line of uniforms when I got there; all of them armed with the Calmenan AK-47 knockoff. We didn't often have the need for violence in our yards, but when we did, there was no sense being half-assed about it. Since a goodly number of the crowd would be armed as well, I didn't want to start anything. It would turn into a bloodbath on both sides, and the only ones 'winning' would be the demons. I turned the microphone on and tapped it to test; it was working fine. This wasn't a wireless set up like back on Earth; I had to be careful with the cord. I stepped in front of the security line and spoke, "I'm here because you seem to want something from us that we don't have ourselves. If you'll appoint a spokesperson or line up with your concerns, I'll be happy to answer all of them."

Some of them began yelling even more angrily and pushing against the gate harder, so, "Lock and load!" Our security folks chambered a round from their magazines, "If you want to talk about the situation, it's possible I can help you. If you decide to get violent I guarantee everyone leading the charge will die. We might be overrun in the end, but it won't be by anyone in the front ranks. If you want something I can give you, the first thing you need to do is calm down and start talking. You can always decide to die later."

"We want out!" a young man in the front row yelled, "The demons are coming and we want out of the city!"

"They'll let you out any of the roads," I replied, "I haven't heard of any orders issued to prevent leaving the city. Even if I'm wrong, there are no roads out of our Yards and the only ship is already full of children and a few women, and they've cast off awaiting sunset anyway. Even if they were still at the dock, we'd have to throw at least one person off for every person we let board. Are you telling me you're such a coward you want us to throw off two or three kids in order to let you escape?" And I stared him down, contempt in my eyes, "Nobody here inside the gate is getting out on a ship. Not me, not these guards, not the workers I still have building bombers and repairing Guard vessels in the hopes of doing enough damage to the demons to keep the city alive. All you can do is force us to kill each other. If you want to live, there are better ways."

I knew I was nobody's idea of a great orator, but a little touch of auros can help with crowds - especially if none of them have any Imperial training. "If you want to get out by the Tabbraz Road, I'd suggest starting soon. The fuel stocks along it have been gathered up and are returning to the city. You might get a couple eight legions of paces before you run out of fuel, and it's about a three eight-day walk with the demons coming hard behind you. If the city falls - or even if it doesn't - my guess is you won't make it two days before they catch you. Personally, I think we've got a better chance here in the city, trying to keep the demons out."

"Aren't you building any more ships?" someone asked from back in the crowd.

"The question asked is whether we're building any more ships," I repeated to make sure everyone heard, "The answer is 'not at the moment.' They're all at least an eight-day from seaworthiness; our workers' efforts will be better spent repairing damaged Guard vessels. Those can bombard the legions from the sea or the Great Harbor. Every demon they kill at range is one we don't have to kill while it's trying to eat someone on the walls. Next question," I pointed to a woman with her hand up.

"I'd rather ask my question privately," she hinted,

The time to take that bull by the horns was now. "Whether you're offering money or sex, the answer is 'no." I'm not throwing anyone off the ship we have loaded, and I don't have any more places to give anyone, no matter what they offer." Privately, I hoped she had the sense to clear out fast before her neighbors could realize what she'd done. But if I said anything, she'd never escape their wrath in time, so I changed the subject.

"I'm assuming everyone here would like to survive?" I was greeted by an outburst of emotion shouting things that all amounted to 'yes!'

"Then go back to the walls and prepare them for the defense, or find some other contribution you can make, like making ammunition, or preparing food for the Guardsmen and anyone else aiding them on the walls. Get a weapon and carry it everywhere in case you meet a noble that's Gating them in without taking the walls. If they take us down here, there will be nowhere that is safe. You will be running for the rest of your lives, which will not be long. They're using all of Calmena as a conduit to pass their armies through to elsewhere. But they carry few supplies with them. If we hold them off for a very few days, they'll start eating each other. Their nobles will have no choice but to take them where they might find easier meals. Your best hope of survival is to do everything you can to keep Yalskarr from falling, and persuade every adult that can to make their own contribution. Now go do something to help us all live and let me return to doing what I can to keep Yalskarr from falling and keep us all out of the demon's bellies!"

"Is there really a hope of holding them off?"

"If there wasn't, I'd already be on gone, not here in the city, and definitely not standing here telling people who should know better that you can't outrun the demons - you have to outfight them and out-think them. My wife is out there with the Guard; she says nearly three-quarters of the Guardsmen defending First Wall were saved and are falling back to the City, and we have three fresh legions here defending the City. The demons can't do what they did to First Wall here - there is no outflanking these walls! They go all around the city! Now go build up those walls, or I understand most of the ammunition makers are begging for helpers, or find something else constructive to contribute. The longer I have to stand here talking, the less time I have to do things that might keep us all alive!"

A final push with auros, and the crowd started breaking up. Some of them were muttering, but they were leaving, heading back into the city. Not a minute too soon, either, because the two Nhadragh prototypes were returning from their first mission, and I didn't want to explain that they didn't have the range to make any of the other cities with a hope of beating back the demonic advance. I hijacked a forklift and headed off to the military area to hear from the pilots.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on July 12, 2021 7:48 AM.

First Draft Excerpt from The End of Childhood was the previous entry in this blog.

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