Stelle Cadenti (59.3)

This scene contains violence.


City of Rangda — Umaru Park

All around him the truck horns blared like makeshift sirens and people rushed in every direction. Officers tried to direct the exodus, but the soldiers found shelter wherever their legs took them, without any sense of order. Inside buildings, under rubble, even beneath the hulls of parked armored vehicles. Everyone was waiting in terror for the bombs.

“Not again,” Adesh mumbled, eyes transfixed by the sky.

He could not move. While everyone else ran, he froze, and he bore witness.

It was far worse at first blush than even the horrors he saw in Bada Aso.

There, he saw squadrons flying in formation. He saw an enemy that meant him harm in a surgical, precise fashion that seemed as if it could be challenged, however meagerly.

Over Rangda there was no pretense of regimentation. A mass of aircraft approached the city in blobs of thirty and forty aircraft and columns a hundred strong, a curtain of metal and wood utterly unlike the efficient, practiced triangle wings of the Nochtish Luftlottes. Adesh felt his heart sink, remembering what one bomb from one bomber plane could do.

Nocht wanted to destroy positions; this felt like a force to destroy city blocks.

“Adesh!”

Eshe shouted for him, and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Adesh, we need to run back to the chimera, it’s safer there!”

He grabbed him by the arm and started to tug him back toward their vehicle.

Soon as the planes came into focus, everything went into disarray. Lieutenant Purana’s voice and, intermittently, a broken, intercut voice that might be perhaps be the HQ, sounded over radios that had been all but abandoned, urging the troops to calm and to counterattack with anti-aircraft fire that nobody seemed to think to deploy. Chimera crews ran back to their vehicles, and where the artillery staff had run to, Adesh did not know. All of the mass of soldiery once devastating the park with machine-like efficiency had fled the open to hide wherever there was concrete high enough to form a ceiling.

Eshe pulled Adesh back to the middle of a circle of forgotten 76mm guns, where the Chimeras had been parked. He saw several men and women jumping the sides of their vehicles to cram into the fighting compartment. Nnenia, atop their own Chimera, urged them closer, and held out her hand to help them. “Hurry!” She said. “It’s dangerous!”

Inside the hull, catching their breath, the youth found Sergeant Rahani on the Chimera’s radio, reporting as best as he could to whatever headquarters had rang him in panic.

“I don’t know how many! I can’t count that high! We’re losing cohesion out here, we need a higher officer on-site immediately! No, I don’t know where our flak crews have gone!”

It was a desperate situation. Adesh felt his heart pounding in his chest at the thought of fighting another battle against the sky. In Bada Aso, they were fully prepared. They had drilled on AA guns for days. They had prepared defenses. Their positions bristled with anti-aircraft guns of all calibers. And they had thousands more men and women fighting.

Despite everything, they lost thousands and thousands of their own to the Luftlotte.

In Rangda, they had nothing. No observatory hill; a fraction as many anti-aircraft guns and operators; and no real training to speak of. They had drilled for ground battle, prepared for ground battle, and won at the ground battle. Now, suddenly, their deadliest foe, the foe that had scarred them in a way no other Northerner had, was here again.

Within moments, the aircraft overflew. Adesh winced, remembering the bombs.

Nothing fell upon them, not immediately.

Instead, seemingly hundreds of parachutes sprouted like mushrooms amid the clouds.

While Nnenia and Eshe fretted and Rahani shouted into the radio in desperate, Adesh stared at the sky, and he took in the colors, the white of the parachutes, the blue of the atmosphere, the shadowy blurs of the aircraft themselves. He saw no bombs, felt no fire, and instead, he thought he saw something very different. Time seemed to slow down.

He saw a massive bomber flying high in the sky.

Adesh hurried to his instruments, zoomed in on the masses of aircraft.

His scope caught sight of a lumbering bomber. Beneath its wings it carried no ordnance, and its underbelly bays were shut. Instead, all along its hull there were canisters.

Extra fuel for the long journey from wherever its home was.

All of it exposed to the ground.

Somehow his mind made the calculus. He put together all the math he barely knew.

“Nnenia, elevate the gun to the maximum! Now!” Adesh shouted.

Nnenia stared at him, wide-eyed.

Eshe fidgeted. “Adesh, we–”

“Get me an explosive round, now! Please trust me!”

Nnenia and Eshe continued to merely stare.

Behind them, however, Rahani raised his head with grinning interest.

“Do as he says!”

In moments, the Chimera’s gun was rising at Nnenia’s command, and Eshe handed Adesh the explosive shell. Adesh disarmed explosive shell, and procured one of their very rare time-delay fuzes. Once he had snapped back together the shell, he loaded it into the gun himself. Adesh did not tinker with the sighting equipment then. He was not going to fire at any particular plane. He was just going to fire into the mass, the endless ranks parading over their heads. They had not dropped one bomb, not a single measly projectile.

Adesh knew it was because they had no bombs. They had fuel and parachutes.

Lots of both.

But no bombs and nothing to defend themselves even from a measly tank.

“Firing high explosive!”

Speechless, Nnenia and Eshe watched as Adesh triggered the gun.

A shell sailed from the gun and toward the horizon, as high into the sky as it could go.

Adesh counted the seconds. If he had set the fuze right–

In the distance the 76mm shell exploded more like a firecracker than a missile.

There was a puff of smoke, almost impossible to see so many kilometers away.

Then amid the teeming mass of aircraft, a much larger explosion resounded.

Black smoke and raging orange flames spread through the center of the sky and formed a thick cloud that started to trail tendrils earthward, as debris fell from inside the blast. Adesh had succeeded, and he stood dumbfounded with the result. When the fuse went off, the near-miss of the frag shell must have ignited the spare fuel on one of the distant craft.

In the notable absence of falling bombs, the explosion made the only violent sound.

Nnenia and Eshe looked upon Adesh with blinking eyes and hanging mouths.

Around the park, the soldiers that had once been hiding, started to reappear to witness the sudden, surprise counterattack they had found themselves confusingly responsible for.

From the back of the Chimera, Rahani, smiling, stretched the radio handset toward Adesh.

“You’ll want to inform the Lieutenant of your discovery, I think.” Rahani cheerfully said.

Within minutes, the sky would teem not only with planes, but with shells and shot.

Adesh’s 76mm round, a most unlikely candidate, would be only the first.

His was the shooting star that shone hope upon the ranks.


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