When Ranger-Colonel Dermot O’Donnell’s Fourth Regiment sets out to prevent inevitable invasion by fortifying the one breach in the otherwise impervious barrier separating them from their enemies, he expects to encounter trouble from the savage environment and is not disappointed. What he does not realize is that the super volcanoes which ravaged the continent, taking out almost every living thing on it six centuries previously, did not erase every trace of its victims. The spirits of a massive column of refugees remain, guarding the place to which the soldiers have come. When the anticipated invasion begins early, long before effective defenses can be prepared, the Fourth’s only hope of survival lies in the favor of the ghosts and their willingness to wield the terrible force that exterminated them. Can O’Donnell win their aid?
|Release||January 28, 2016|
|Tags||ghosts, visions, invasion, post apocoplyse world, hurricane at sea, flash flood, limnic eruption, assassination attempt, horses, cats, character deverlopment and relationships|
“We’re in for some voyage,” the woman beside him said in disgust.
He turned to her. “Why do you say that?”
“I’d thought the General Everett was supposed to be a comfortable ship as transports go.”
“Relatively comfortable. That’s why the civilians are aboard.”
“Well, we’d all be spending the passage bent over the rails if it weren’t for the balance shots. Look at the way she’s pitching. It doesn’t seem right.”
The colonel straightened as his attention once more fixed on the vessel. “It’s burning wrong!”
As he watched, the General Everett slowly dipped to port, the side facing the pier. She moved a good ten degrees, then slowly righted and held level for a few moments before pitching the same distance toward starboard. The sequence repeated, except that the pitch seemed slightly greater.
Fear surged through the man as he realized what was happening. The Everett depended upon her cargo for ballast, and she had none at the moment for all practical purposes. The Fourth’s supplies and baggage had gone ahead on the Wave Plough except for the soldiers’ personal gear and obligatory three-days’ rations in the packs they carried. The horses’ feed, water, and tackle was on the third deck with them. The crew’s possessions would be in their cabins on the second. Besides the seafarers’ supplies and the required additional water, there was nothing in the holds but the baggage of the four hundred-odd other people, and that would not be much. Most of them were going to army quarters outfitted with basic furnishings. The General Everett’s own weight was centered in her larger upper decks. She would have been top heavy empty. In this situation, even with less than half her passenger capacity aboard, the ship was perilously unstable.
“Marii!” he called sharply. “Get them all off!”
“Colonel?” She darted over to him from her place at the base of the gangplank.
“Now,” he replied. “In an orderly fashion, but move them off as rapidly as possible.”
“Very good, sir.”
Sullivan turned to her battalion. “Rangers, about face and disembark,” she ordered in a voice loud enough to carry to the deck.
O’Donnell had already waved one of the Bluetunic sentries over to him. “Private, tell Sergeant O’Hara to bring the horses back out. He is to use as many people as he needs to do it quickly.”
“Yes, sir.” She was running to obey before she had finished speaking.
“By the Fire Mountains’ Lord!” In the brief time it had taken to issue his orders, the pitch had increased to nearly fifteen degrees.
The Ranger-Colonel had cause to be proud of his command. The Greentunics filed off the transport in perfect order with no open haste or sign of stress but with much greater speed than they had used in boarding. The horses were moving steadily as well but more slowly. A number of them had already been settled and safety fastened in their padded stalls. They had to be untied before they could be led free of the vessel.
Dermot released a final tight breath as the last of his soldiers reached solid ground and moved back out of reach of the Everett’s superstructure should the ship crash down onto the pier.
“What in the Fire Pit do you think you are doing?”
The shout came from a furious-faced man in a Ship’s Captain’s uniform standing at the top of the gangplank.
“My troops and horses are not boarding until this vessel is properly trimmed. I’d advise you to order the rest of your passengers and those of your crew not needed for the work off as well.”
“Damn you, sir! I’ll not have you frightening my passengers. The General Everett always rocks a bit before she sets out. She’ll settle in fine once she’s at sea. Now, get your burning regiment back on board. You’ve delayed our sailing as it is!”
“She may feel all right where you are,” Dermot responded calmly, wondering how that could be possible unless this floating death trap habitually behaved this way, “but you should take a look at her from here.” His heart was slamming in his chest as he spoke. The pitch now exceeded twenty degrees. Fire Mountains’ Lord! There were children on that deck. He could see them, gathered along with the adults at the railing near the gangplank. They were quiet now, uncertain.
Ship’s Captain Simmons seemed ready to detonate, but he accepted his responsibility for the people and vessel in his charge. He stomped down and over to the place where the Fourth’s commander was standing.
He watched the Everett go through a single pitch cycle, port-upright-starboard. Twenty-seven degrees.
Simmons did not need to see another. “Passengers, disembark at once!”
These people were army, and their discipline held. They moved toward the gangplank, shepherding the children in front of them so that they would be the first off.
The General Everett gave them no more time. She made another pitch to port, significantly deeper than those that had preceded it. For several breathless seconds, she struggled to right herself once again and seemed about to do so, but weight and the pull of gravity prevailed. The ship turned on her side. Her stern swung slightly outward as she fell so that some people dropped onto the broken dock and the others, the majority, into the slice of water between the foundered craft and the land.