General Sarah York felt haggard and impossibly tired. In only six months since she'd assumed command of the American military, she felt she'd aged a lifetime. Trying to keep track of two almost completely isolated armies on two different fronts was like trying to play chess and solve deferential equations at once.
The worst part of it was that she was being beaten at both fronts. The military was a fraction of what it once had been. America had hardly been on a war footing since the Rape of Washington, and it had been reduced to shambles trying to deal with the rebellious populace. Even now a lot of troops had to stay behind in the major metropolitan areas to keep the peace. The army, already small, was divided along two fronts. To be simple: there were not enough troops.
There was not enough equipment for the troops that were there. Prices of food, supplies, and equipment had skyrocketed. Serious weapons like planes, tanks, leapers, and artillery were even more scarce. The troops were marching on empty bellies, without support, against enemies that hopelessly outmanned and outgunned them. Even without the support of coalies around the world Canada and Mexico probably could have held off the American army in such a condition.
The condition was awful. It was just as bad across the globe.
Sarah squinted at the words printed in simple English on the map. They didn't seem to be making sense. She willed the map, coaxed it, tried to make it make some sense. It stolidly refused. She realized she hadn't slept in...how long had it been?
Checking a watch Sarah noted it had been several days since her last bout of sleep. Typical commander syndrome. Sarah never would have guessed she would have come down with it. When she had been a mere major general commanding a tiny quarter of American forces, she had seen to it that she got a full three hours every night. Just by quadrupling her workload she had ruined her chances for somnambulic success.
She poured herself more coffee (go-juice, go-juice, go-juice). She went back to the map (keep working, keep working, keep working). She had to concentrate (stay awake, stay awake, stay awake).
The air war in Mexico had been costly, but effective. A few towns had been successfully bombed, and Mexican industry was stalling. The first major push against Juala had been successful, but the whole wing had been wiped out. Could she consider sending bombers to Mexico City? So deep into enemy territory, losses would be dreadful. But the dividends...Was it worth it? Other than the air war, things couldn't have been worse. Tijuana, the first American push into Mexican soil had been pushed back violently. She'd caught the second half of that battle on GRTH the other night.
Steadily, steadily, steadily, the Mexicans were pushing forward. The problem was she didn't have any real generals down there. There had been sparks of hope in Canada because of good leadership. Bad armies led by bad generals were bound to fail. But at least if a bad army was led by a good general they had some hope.
Colonel Paul King was the only one really doing anything down there. She decided to promote him. He'd be a brigadier in a few hours, once the promotion went through. She decided to sack the current commander down there. She didn't care who it was. She needed new blood in command down there. (Subconsciously she was hoping there might be a repeat of her rise to power, and the relative good fortune which had followed that).
As for Canada, things were going better (but still not well). Flamethrower Squads were having some success, as the Canadians didn't have anything even comparably destructive. Sarah decided she would also divert some Flamethrower Squads down to the Mexican Front.
Sarah looked up from her maps and requisition papers. It was her adjutant, Major Hayes. Looped around his hand several times was the handle of a leash. His dog, a small bull terrier named Omar, was standing by his side, looking around in dumbfounded surprise and drooling slightly. A fine dog, that Omar.
"What's up, Dan?" she asked, letting more exhaustion seep into her voice than she wanted.
The junior officer fidgeted a bit.
"Ah, well, ma'am, it's just that...Well, it's three in the morning and you're the only one still awake here. Actually, I might be too, but I'm not really sure."
York gave a small laugh and Hayes smiled. Omar seemed to perk up a bit from his usual ecstatic self.
"The war's gone to sleep for a little while, ma'am," said the major, "And we need to have a rested supreme commander tomorrow when it wakes up."
"I'm too exhausted to sleep, major," she said.
"Would you care to take a walk, then, ma’am, just to get your mind away for a bit?"
Sarah's face narrowed suspiciously.
"You are familiar with the UCMJ, aren't you, Major Hayes?"
"Very familiar, ma'am. Come on, think of it as a friendly walk. A friend wouldn't let another friend run herself ragged."
Sarah shrugged a surrender and got up from her chair with a yawn. She crouched down and patted Hayes' dog.
Scratching behind his ears she asked, "How are you doing, Omar?"
The bull terrier yipped and tapped his paw excitedly.
"Did you put your master up to this? Did you tell him to come bother me?"
Omar nodded vivaciously and then began chasing his tail. She stood back up and stretched a bit.
"Come on, let's go," she said.
Hayes whistled and Omar jumped up and followed the two officers. They began to walk down the halls of Military Headquarters, a secret place in Philadelphia where the government had been relocated.
"What should happen if we're invaded while I am taking this constitutional, Dan?"
"Well," said Hayes thoughtfully, "We should have at least a few hours before the Mexicans reach Philadelphia, and at least a few minutes before the Canadians do. I figure we'll just sort of get away. Dammit, Omar, get away from there!"
Hayes tugged on the leash and his dog choked, abruptly ceasing to treat the door to MI as a fire hydrant.
"No, no, let him do that if he wants. We'll finally have a use for Intelligence," said Sarah, smiling.
They slowly threaded their way up to the roof, passing by doors of commanders and specific forces. They soon passed the door for the commander in chief of naval operations.
"What kind of a name is Omar for a dog, anyway?" asked the general suddenly.
"Well, I might ask you the same thing," countered Hayes, "But I won't. He's named after General Bradley."
"Bradley," Sarah said, "A careful planner. Not much of a doer, but when he did do things they always worked out because he had planned them so well. I wish I could have more generals like that. A lot of them plan, but plan poorly.
"Or, I wish I had a Patton. A bold, crazy, courageous S.O.B. Someone who would strike again and again, and win again and again. God, major, I need generals. If I had just one general the troops could rally around."
Sarah shook her head gently. She silently plodded forward. Hayes knew better than to press the point. He untangled his dog from a doorknob he had somehow wrapped his leash around and proceeded forward.
They soon reached the roof, the unconscious destination of their venture. It was cold and windy; it was winter. They were actually in a skyscraper. The Military Headquarters occupied the top half of the tower, and some legitimate business occupied the bottom half. It was an excellent means of disguising themselves. And so, being at the top of one of these sprawling buildings was like being at the top of the world.
The blinking lights of Philadelphia filled their view. Some buildings were taller, some were shorter, some the same height. But they all seemed to stretch on for eternity.
"We're going to lose The Last War, major," said York quietly.
Hayes nodded grimly.
"This war is occupying all my time. I don't have a life outside this uniform. It's, it's...consuming me."
"It's consuming all of us, ma'am," the other replied, then perking up, added, "Except for Omar."
Indeed, the bull terrier was completely oblivious to the utter turmoil going on around the world. He looked up at his master smiling and drooling happily.
"I only wish I could be more like that dog," said Sarah York, "But I can't. I wish The Claw had never taken Washington, but they did. I wish we could win a battle somewhere, but we can't, can we? I wish a lot of things. Most of all, I wish this war was over."
Major Hayes saw the weight of leadership bearing down on his commander. He realized he was sharing the weight, only a tiny fraction of what the general had to bear, but still some. Omar was happy and carefree, and he slobbered all over his master's boots.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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