"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything--and one's last is to come to terms with everything." ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Minerva, Chapter 17
General Rygar sighed. This was a dangerous game that Lugar was playing. By allowing the United States to supplement its advisors with 'peacekeeping troops,' Lugar was jeopardizing Lotos' very independence.
He knew he must crush the capitalists, and quickly. But what could Rygar do? After the initial capture of almost one-fifth of his men, Rygar had been very conservative with his forward deployments. He had immediately secured food supplies from the stores in the vicinity of the harbor, and set up a strong perimeter. The buildings occupied by his men had been thoroughly searched for booby traps, such as the demolition charges that had caught him so unawares on the first day.
But beyond this, Rygar could make little progress. The loudspeaker announcements had been true to their word: Any Lotosian soldier spotted north of the so-called Third Street would have a leg destroyed. This intolerable situation would quickly reduce any company of troops into scattered groups hiding in hardware stores. Few men had returned from such encounters; Rygar didn't know how many were still active in the city, looting from shop to shop. For all the general knew, they had all been captured or killed.
Rygar drummed his fingers on the table, studying the large map of the island. His three halfhearted attempts at northern amphibious landings had met with total failure; he had lost contact with the boats, and never heard from them again. His attempt to protect his men with tarps coated with old tires had likewise failed; although they did indeed shield the men from the snipers' bullets, the tarps proved very flammable, as the capitalist forces quickly demonstrated with incendiary devices.
[The capitalist forces'] Rygar didn't know whether to believe the rumors that the snipers were in fact robots. He would have loved to show his men a human corpse to prove the contrary, but unfortunately, his men had been unable to kill a single enemy. Their shots were always preceded by the blinding light, making it impossible to locate the shooters.
The supply of fresh water was dwindling, Rygar noted as he studied a set of figures on his desk. Although world opinion was clearly with them, and in particular was outraged by the deliberate maiming of Lotosian soldiers, nonetheless Rygar's men were terrified. A disturbing balance had settled on the conflict since its inception ten days previously. Every day, Rygar's men would slowly expand the front, seizing more and more buildings. But those buildings colored in red (on the mysterious maps that had just started showing up in the Lotosian camp) were always booby trapped or heavily defended by sniper fire. Those buildings in green, in contrast, could be taken with little trouble; only a few civilians in the buildings themselves resisted.
The problem was that he was quickly running out of green sites. Lugar had assured him more supplies would be forthcoming'hopefully the Americans would provide assistance'but Rygar wasn't sure he could wait. If he had to cut rations, the nighttime desertions (which were now losing him more troops than the snipers) would multiply. Rygar had already implemented a new rotation in the sentries, so that the men would always be working with some strangers each new watch. Even so, it was impossible to prevent hundreds of men'especially those with no families on Lotos'from sneaking into the city at night.
One couldn't really blame the men. They saw the steady stream of amputees flooding back into their ranks each day. (The capitalists would always collect the maimed, perform a quick surgery to prevent infection, and then deposit the injured men at the front in pilotless trolleys.) Many could perform satisfactorily after appending a wooden stump to their ruined legs, but the psychological toll on the others was obvious.
The insidious capitalists had resorted to their favorite weapon as well: money. The injured told of amazing medical facilities and promises that defectors would be given jobs and ounces of gold for their wise decision. All the men need do was move northward under cover of night; as long as they were in groups no larger than five and unarmed, they would be met with hospitality.
Rygar nodded his head as he converged on a decision. He would order all of his men to rush uptown and seize the major office buildings. Perhaps thousands would be lost, but if he could relocate his headquarters to that central location, Rygar just might be able to spread out and secure the entire city.
* * *
How long are they gonna wait? Mike Reynolds thought as the soldiers continued to sprint through the street. He had been watching this for over thirty seconds and still had received no orders.
'Ahh . . .' Reynolds whispered as his helmet beeped. He had finally been given the green light to just waste these motherfuckers.
Men screamed as bullets ripped through the charge. The officers obeyed Rygar's order to shoot anyone trying to enter a building. The men needed to reach the center of the city or the invasion was over.
'Units eight and nine evacuated,' the operator said. The display on the monitor changed accordingly.
Peckard nodded his head. As he had predicted, the column of troops was heading straight up Broadway and a few adjacent streets. The evacuation procedures that he had worked out with the insurance companies would hopefully ensure that none of their clients died in this last gasp effort.
'[We can't break through!]' Lieutenant Kipson yelled. The latest explosions did nothing but char the metal seals on the doors to the giant building.
Rygar surveyed the scene. Hundreds of his men were burrowing under the bodies of their fallen comrades in order to escape the fire raining down. This time the capitalists were not using sniper rifles.
'[Try the other buildings!]' Rygar ordered.
* * *
'[Very good,]' the voice boomed over the loudspeaker. The last of the fallen had been removed from the streets in the swift armored vehicles.
'[Now you will lay down your arms and leave the building when you are notified,]' the voice continued.
'All teams in place,' the operator said.
'Release them,' Peckard said. He was about to see if his ploy'having defectors march past the smoking buildings in mock surrender'would convince the bunkered soldiers to give up as well.
'[Shall we fire on them?]' Lieutenant Vezard asked. Rygar had given explicit instructions that, after seizing the buildings, anyone seen surrendering was to be executed.
Rygar looked out of the gaping hole in the building at the men marching past. They looked frightened as they walked with their hands on their heads.
'[No,]' Rygar finally said. He put down his weapon and waited for the signal'the flickering red lights'to be given to the building into which he and several dozen others had scrambled to avoid being mowed down from the elevated shooters.
Lugar's foolish gamble had failed. General Rygar was ready to see if the capitalists would keep their word.