Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2013, Karl Leffler
War Stories: La Guerre est Finie
Battle of the Great Plains
130km west of St Louis, Missouri
So this was an American town, the lieutenant thought. Once upon a time.
Smoke clouded the air and rubble choked the streets – They still use streets, he thought; without swarms of bureaucrats and gangs of uniformed thugs to tell them they couldn't, the Republic had used personal air transport since the Founding, and had never scarred their worlds with slashes of road.
Whatever this town had once been, it may never have had a single building over four stories. Now it had few over one. Even the streetsigns had been flattened by three weeks of desperate fighting.
Decades before that, the signs' American English, the root of George Solens' own language, had been replaced by Imperial French. The town was called Gasconade now. He'd have to consult a Navy encyclopedia to learn what it was called before.
Scraps of the Imperial Terran Army lay scattered for a hundred kilometers in every direction – tanks, trucks, guns, aircraft, and of course men. All wrecked. But here, the last of them, the 118th Mechanized Infantry Division with strays from any other unit in reach, had rallied.
This was the Terran Empire's Last Stand.
Restraint had been ordered; the scientists were worried about atmospheric pollution from the orbital strikes preceding the landings a year ago, combined with the multiple nukes the Empire had used in last-ditch defense since. That meant the Navy wasn't going to drop a rock, or a Marsten beam, on the place. That meant taking it the old-fashioned way.
For three weeks the battle had ground away equipment, terrain, and men. The Mobile Infantry got most of the glory, but old-fashioned leg infantry still did most of the work. But that work was coming to an end.
The Republic now had aerospace supremacy. Nothing flew anywhere in Sol System that was not Jeffersonian. Marine Corsair aerospace fighters had wrecked the enemy's last tanks; computer-controlled counterbattery fire had smashed their last artillery. From a reinforced division, there remained now only an understrength company, occupying an apartment complex whose architecture might have been pre-Escape.
As far as anyone knew, this was the last pocket of official, organized, Imperial resistance anywhere on Planet Earth.
Solens and his platoon had been in the very front every day of those three weeks. He had seen the enemy in action, and had got a feel for the kind of man their commander was.
Jeffersonian Marine officers were expected to exercise initiative, and were given plenty of latitude to do so. As the enemy fire faded out over the last hour, Solens' plan formed.
When he saw movement among the rubble, he put that plan into action.
The lieutenant strode steadily forward, M17 held at the balance in his left hand, the stick bearing the white rag in his right. Presently the enemy officer – a major, he noted – came out to meet him. They stopped face-to-face, a couple meters apart, squarely between their two forces. For a while, they simply looked each other over.
The Jeffersonian Marine was ragged, his uniform torn, his rank insignia subdued, his face and hands dirty... his weapon immaculate. The Imperial major wore the remains of a much finer uniform, and had made some effort to be presentable. A pistol was holstered at his left hip, butt-forward in ancient cavalry crossdraw style.
Solens asked, “You speak American?”
Expressionless, the major replied with heavy accent, “I speak the English.”
“Solens, George R., 1st Lieutenant, JRMC.”
“Chef de bataillion Jacques LeBeaux, la Grande Armée l'Empire la Terre.”
Not so Grand an Army now, Solens thought – and he could sense bitterness, even through the language barrier, in the major's tone when he said the words.
Bitterness, and sadness. He knows. He knows it's over, but he's still a soldier. Still a man.
I was right about him.
Again the two men stared at each other. After some moments, Solens turned his gaze upward. The major's eyes followed to witness a streak of fire across the sky, between billows of smoke from the smoldering town. A warship of the Imperial Terran Navy, or a piece of one, killed weeks or months before and now allowed or caused by traffic control to fall, was burning on entry as its orbit decayed.
And then another.
The lieutenant returned his gaze to the major. “War's over,” Solens announced. “Near enough. Why die?”
“I have my duty.”
“To what?” Solens asked, with some gentleness. “To whom?”
The major considered, his mask of impassiveness cracking. “My men....”
“Food and care is waiting.” Solens jerked his head over a shoulder. “A minute's walk away.”
The major's jaw trembled, his voice quavered. “...And the future?”
“You've fought clean, so far as I know. Certainly here today. War crimes trials are for those we have proof of, but if it comes to it, you have my word as a fellow officer I will testify on your behalf. Some months in a camp, I expect – but you and your men will be in better conditions there than you are now. Then, you'll be accepted as Subjects. You can earn Citizenship, same as I did.”
The major was silent for a long minute. “Where shall a warrior go,” he asked, “when there is no more war?”
Solens had wondered about that himself, of late. “It's a big galaxy,” he answered. “Something's always happening somewhere.”
Another pause. “I wish not to be separated from my men.” His voice broke. “...My brave men.”
“They're building a new camp twenty klicks from here,” Solens said. “Food, medicine, hot water, clean beds, new clothes. They're keeping units together, including officers.”
“Your word?” A tear started down the major's cheek. “As a brother officer?”
“My word,” Solens answered, “and the video I've been recording.” He shifted the makeshift flagpole to indicate the camera built into his helmet. “The Republic has a code of honor, Major LeBeaux, as does her Marine Corps. I'll not be gainsaid.”
Slowly, as though in physical pain, LeBeaux drew his sidearm with his left hand, and presented it butt-first to Solens. Slinging his rifle, the lieutenant took it in his hand, examined it for a moment, reversed it, and held it out to the Imperial officer. “You may keep your sidearm, Major. On your honor as an officer.” Tears rolled down the man's face, and he choked back a sob as he reholstered his pistol. “Men will stack arms and surrender any explosives or other weapons, but may keep one knife or bayonet each. They may fill out tags for future reclamation, but that will be at least one year from now, and is not guaranteed.”
Solens handed the white flag over. “Gunny,” he said to his comm, “send Corpsmen at once to tend the Imperial wounded. Bring the rest of the men forward with any spare water or rations they have. Alert higher, objective Whiskey One Four is secure, and request personnel to process honorable prisoners of war.”