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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdaptation - Chapter 6
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Adaptation - Chapter 6 Post by :hotlinkz Category :Long Stories Author :Mack Reynolds Date :May 2012 Read :1861

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Adaptation - Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI

Leonid Plekhanov, Joseph Chessman, Barry Watson, Khan Reif and several of the Tulan army staff stood on a small knoll overlooking a valley of several square miles. A valley dominated on all sides but the sea by mountain ranges.

Reif and the three Earthlings were bent over a military map depicting the area. Barry Watson traced with his finger.

"There are only two major passes into this valley. We have this one, they dominate that."

Plekhanov was scowling, out of his element and knowing it. "How many men has Mynor been able to get together?"

Watson avoided looking into the older man's face. "Approximately half a million according to Hawkins' estimate. He flew over them this morning."

"Half a million!"

"Including the nomads, of course," Joe Chessman said. "The nomads fight more like a mob than an army."

Plekhanov was shaking his massive head. "Most of them will melt away if we continue to avoid battle. They can't feed that many men on the countryside. The nomads in particular will return home if they don't get a fight soon."

Watson hid his impatience. "That's the point, sir. If we don't break their power now, in a decisive defeat, we'll have them to fight again, later. And already they've got iron swords, the crossbow and even a few muskets. Given time and they'll all be so armed. Then the fat'll be in the fire."

"He's right," Joe Chessman said sourly.

Reif nodded his head. "We must finish them now, if we can. The task will be twice as great next year."

Plekhanov grumbled in irritation. "Half a million of them and something like forty thousand of our Tulans."

Reif corrected him. "Some thirty thousand Tulans, all infantrymen." He added, "And eight thousand allied cavalry only some of whom can be trusted." Reif's ten-year-old son came up next to him and peered down at the map.

"What's that child doing here?" Plekhanov snapped.

Reif looked into the other's face. "This is Taller Second, my son. You from First Earth have never bothered to study our customs. One of them is that a Khan's son participates in all battles his father does. It is his training."

Watson was pointing out features on the map again. "It will take three days for their full army to get in here." He added with emphasis, "In retreat, it would take them the same time to get out."

Plekhanov scowled heavily. "We can't risk it. If we were defeated, we have no reserve army. We'd have lost everything." He looked at Joe Chessman and Watson significantly. "We'd have to flee back to the _Pedagogue_."

Reif's face was expressionless.

Barry Watson looked at him. "We won't desert you, Reif, forget about that aspect of it."

Reif said, "I believe you, Barry Watson. You are a ... soldier."

Dick Hawkins' small biplane zoomed in, landed expertly at the knoll's foot. The occupant vaulted out and approached them at a half run.

Hawkins called as soon as he was within shouting distance. "They're moving in. Their advance cavalry units are already in the pass."

When he was with them, Plekhanov rubbed his hand nervously over heavy lips. He rumbled, "The cavalry, eh? Listen, Hawkins, get back there and dust them. Use the gas."

The pilot said slowly, "I have four bullet holes in my wings."

"Bullet holes!" Joe Chessman snapped.

Hawkins turned to him. "By the looks of things, MacBride's whole unit has gone over to the rebels. Complete with their double-barreled muskets. A full thousand of them."

Watson looked frigidly at Leonid Plekhanov. "You insisted on issuing guns to men we weren't sure of."

Plekhanov grumbled, "Confound it, don't use that tone of voice with me. We have to arm our men, don't we?"

Watson said, "Yes, but our still comparatively few advanced weapons shouldn't go into the hands of anybody but trusted citizens of the State, certainly not to a bunch of mercenaries. The only ones we can _really trust even among the Tulans, are those that were kids when we first took over. The one's we've had time to indoctrinate."

"The mistake's made. It's too late now," Plekhanov said. "Hawkins go back and dust those cavalrymen as they come through the pass."

Reif said, "It was a mistake, too, to allow them the secret of the crossbow."

Plekhanov roared, "I didn't _allow them anything. Once the crossbow was introduced it was just a matter of time before its method of construction got to the enemy."

"Then it shouldn't have been introduced," Reif said, his eyes unflinching from the Earthman's.

Plekhanov ignored him. He said, "Hawkins, get going on that dusting. Watson, pull what units we already have in this valley back through the pass we control. We'll avoid battle until more of their army has fallen away."

Hawkins said with deceptive mildness, "I just told you those cavalrymen have muskets. To fly low enough to use gas on them, I'd get within easy range. Point one, this is the only aircraft we've built. Point two, MacBride is probably dead, killed when those cavalrymen mutinied. Point three, I came on this expedition to help modernize the Texcocans, not to die in battle."

Plekhanov snarled at him. "Coward, eh?" He turned churlishly to Watson and Reif. "Start pulling back our units."

Barry Watson looked at Chessman. "Joe?"

Joe Chessman shook his head slowly. He said to Reif, "Khan, start bringing your infantry through the pass. Barry, we'll follow your plan of battle. We'll anchor one flank on the sea and concentrate what cavalry we can trust on the hills on the right. That's the bad spot, that right flank has to hold."

Plekhanov's thick lips trembled. He said in fury, "Is this insubordination?"

Reif turned on his heel and followed by young Taller and his staff hurried down the knoll to where their horses were tethered.

Chessman said to Hawkins, "If you've got the fuel, Dick, maybe it'd be a good idea to keep them under observation. Fly high enough, of course, to avoid gunfire."

Hawkins darted a look at Plekhanov, turned and hurried back to his plane.

Joe Chessman, his voice sullen, said to Plekhanov, "We can't afford any more mistakes, Leonid. We've had too many already." He said to Watson, "Be sure and let their cavalry units scout us out. Allow them to see that we're entering the valley too. They'll think they've got us trapped."

"They will have!" Plekhanov roared. "I countermand that order, Watson! We're withdrawing."

Barry Watson raised his eyebrows at Joe Chessman.

"Put him under arrest," Joe growled sourly. "We'll decide what to do about it later."

* * * * *

By the third day, Mynor's rebel and nomad army had filed through the pass and was forming itself into battle array. Rank upon rank upon rank.

The Tulan infantry had taken less than half a day to enter. They had camped and rested during the interval, the only action being on the part of the rival cavalry forces.

Now the thirty thousand Tulans went into their phalanx and began their march across the valley.

Joe Chessman, Hawkins, Roberts, Stevens and Khan Reif and several of his men again occupied the knoll which commanded a full view of the terrain. With binoculars and wrist radios from the _Pedagogue they kept in contact with the battle.

Below, Barry Watson walked behind the advancing infantry. There were six divisions of five thousand men each, twenty-four foot _sarissas stretched before their sixteen man deep line. Only the first few lines were able to extend their weapons; the rest gave weight and supplied replacements for the advanced lines' casualties. Behind them all the Tulan drums beat out the slow, inexorable march.

Cogswell, beside Watson with the wrist radio, said excitedly, "Here comes a cavalry charge, Barry. Reif says right behind it the nomad infantry is coming in." Cogswell cleared his throat. "All of them."

Watson held up a hand in signal to his officers. The phalanx ground to a halt, received the charge on the hedge of _sarissas_. The enemy cavalry wheeled and attempted to retreat to the flanks but were caught in a bloody confusion by the pressure of their own advancing infantry.

Cogswell, his ear to the radio, said, "Their main body of horse is hitting our right flank." He wet his lips. "We're outnumbered there something like ten to one. At least ten to one."

"They've got to hold," Watson said. "Tell Reif and Chessman that flank has to hold."

The enemy infantrymen in their hundreds of thousands hit the Tulan line in a clash of deafening military thunder. Barry Watson resumed his pacing. He signaled to the drummers who beat out another march. The phalanx moved forward slowly, and slowly went into an echelon formation, each division slightly ahead of the one following. Of necessity, the straight lines of the nomad and rebel front had to break.

The drums went _boom_, ah, _boom_, ah, _boom_, ah, _boom_.

The Tulan phalanx moved slowly, obliquely across the valley. The hedge of spears ruthlessly pressed the mass of enemy infantry before them.

The sergeants paced behind, shouting over the din. "Dress it up. You there, you've been hit, fall out to the rear."

"I'm all right," the wounded spearman snarled, battle lust in his voice.

"Fall out, I said," the sergeant roared. "You there, take his place."

The Tulan phalanx ground ahead.

One of the sergeants grinned wanly at Barry Watson as his men moved forward with the preciseness of the famed Rockettes of another era. "It's working," he said proudly.

Barry Watson snorted, "Don't give me credit. It belongs to a man named Philip of Macedon, a long ways away in both space and time."

Cogswell called, "Our right flank cavalry is falling back. Joe wants to know if you can send any support."

Watson's face went expressionless. "No," he said flatly. "It's got to hold. Tell Joe and the Khan it's got to hold. Suggest they throw in those cavalry units they're not sure of. The ones that threatened mutiny last week."

Joe Chessman stood on the knoll flanked by the Khan's ranking officers and the balance of the Earthmen. Natt Roberts was on the radio. He turned to the others and worriedly repeated the message.

Joe Chessman looked out over the valley. The thirty-thousand-man phalanx was pressing back the enemy infantry with the precision of a machine. He looked up the hillside at the point where the enemy cavalry was turning the right flank. Given cavalry behind the Tulan line and the battle was lost.

"O.K., boys," Chessman growled sourly, "we're in the clutch now. Hawkins!"

"Yeah," the pilot said.

"See what you can do. Use what bombs you have including the napalm. Fly as low as you can in the way of scaring their horses." He added sourly, "Avoiding scaring ours, if you can."

"You're the boss," Hawkins said, and scurried off toward his scout plane.

Joe Chessman growled to the others, "When I was taking my degree in primitive society and primitive military tactics, I didn't exactly have this in mind. Come on!"

It was the right thing to say. The other Earthmen laughed and took up their equipment, submachine guns, riot guns, a flame thrower, grenades, and followed him up the hill toward the fray.

Chessman said over his shoulder to Reif, "Khan, you're in the saddle. You can keep in touch with both Watson and us on the radio."

Reif hesitated only a moment. "There is no need for further direction of the battle from this point. A warrior is of more value now than a Khan. Come my son." He caught up a double-barreled musket and followed the Earthmen. The ten years old Taller scurried after with a revolver.

Natt Roberts said, "If we can hold their cavalry for only another half hour, Watson's phalanx will have their infantry pressed up against the pass they entered by. It took them three days to get through it, they're not going to be able to get out in hours."

"That's the idea," Joe Chessman said dourly, "Let's go."

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CHAPTER VLeonid Plekhanov returned to the _Pedagogue with a certain ceremony. He was accompanied by Joe Chessman, Natt Roberts and Barry Watson of his original group, but four young, hard-eyed, hard-faced and armed Tulans were also in the party. Their space lighter swooped in, nestled to the _Pedagogue's hull in the original bed it had occupied on the trip from Terra City, and her port opened to the corridors of the mother ship. Plekhanov, flanked by Chessman and Watson, strode heavily toward the ship's lounge. Natt Roberts and two of the Tulans remained with the small boat. Two of the other
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