The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Friday, September 3, 2010

On the Columbia Front

A little something from the new short stories page over at the AHN website.

Eastmont, Washington

Columbia Front

June 23, 1913

Captain Clive Arnold looked down from his hilltop position to take in the view of the small town across the Columbia. It was not much, just a few streets, some brick buildings, and a sea of orchards. It could be a typical Canadian town, if not for the fact that it sat on lands, by all rights, were American. As he peered through his binoculars, he saw the town’s inhabitants move about their business, few old enough to remember the Third Anglo-American War. Arnold remembered vividly the stories his father told him about that war, about how America was forced again to sign away its Manifest Destiny to the limeys.

Well, not this time, Arnold thought grimly. The 1880s might as well have been Ancient Greece when compared to the advances of the last few decades. If Sherman had himself as many machine guns as Colonel Dearborn, a mere division commander, that war would have turned out very differently. Some of the militia back then were still using muzzle-loaders, for God’s sake. Muskets! The last of those antiques were either now in museums, private collections or melted down to reclaim their iron.

It was a warm, windy day. Arnold noticed that north-central Washington had plenty of those. The incessant wind was enough to drive a man mad, especially when a tent flap was not secured. The bulk of the Twenty-third Division camped upon the heights, clean out of view of the Limeys, and their syrup-sapping lackeys. Some days, the wind blew nonstop, sun-up to sundown. In the wind, dust and other fine particular matter was just waiting to lodge itself in somebody’s eyes. If the dust did not get you, then the cotton-picking ticks would.

Arnold made his quarters with his men, opting out of the offer by Colonel Dearborn, who wanted to station him near division HQ on Rock Island. The only reason any town existed on that little island was because no steam boat could navigate the rapids of the same name. At least not one large enough to carry a worthwhile cargo. Besides, why bother when a railroad passes through Rock Islands, Eastmont and crossed the Columbia into Wenatchee.

Arnold sighed. Of all the sectors of all the fronts, why did he get dumped here? He would wager a good portion of this month’s pay that his father had something to do with it. The big action would be on Ohio Front, where General Samuel Arnold commanded his own divisions, under the overall command of Black Jack Pershing. There, along with the Potomac and Great Lakes, was where the war would be fought and be won. Not out here in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dust storms and biting insects, above a town so small, that if he was passenger upon a train and blinked, he would not even know Eastmont existed.

The Colonel forbade any soldiers from wandering down from the highlands and into town, for fear that the British would learn about them. Yeah, right, Arnold snorted at the idea. As if the Redcoats did not know the better part of a division sat only a few miles across the Columbia. Not as if they still wear red uniforms, giving them up in favor of khaki, butternut, or whatever they called that drab color. Arnold’s own blue uniform, heavy wool, trapped more of the sun’s heat than he cared for. He let his binoculars drop from his face as he reached down for a canteen. The only good thing about this joke of a posting was that he would not have to do much fighting in the summer heat.

War was coming, anyone with a half-functioning brain and one good eye could see that. Yesterday, the Germans crossed the border into Poland-Lithuania in support for their candidate to the throne. Most soldiers and officers did not know this, but a month ago, the Germans sent a telegram to Philadelphia, warning that if the succession crisis was not settled by the June twenty-two, the Imperial German Army was going to cross the border and make the decision for the Poles. That telegram was the only reason he, as well as hundreds of thousands of other soldiers, were already on the front lines. Sweden made it clear that they would declare war if any hostile actions were made in Poland, where their own candidate was deadlocked with the German to take the throne. Frankly, it was beyond Arnold why anyone would want the Polish crown.

War was declared, and the Great Powers were mobilizing. Well, all but one. Roosevelt ordered a slow and quiet mobilization when it became clear war was inevitable. Aside from the Germans, who already invaded their neighbor, no nation on Earth was more ready for war than the United States. When Congress passed its own declaration, armies would march across the border, and crush the enemies of America. At least some would. All the Twenty-third would do is cross the Columbia, taking this railroad bridge in tact, and keep on marching across Steven’s Pass towards Seattle. Arnold was certain that ugly looking span of steel was the only reason the Army took any interest in this dust bowl.

The British certainly took little interest in it. Over the past few days, Arnold spotted plenty of armed civilians, riding into town with a rifle in their saddle, as well as a few uniformed militia. A trio of militia were spotted with a machine gun not more than a couple hundred feet from the bridge. Arnold kept track of them and carefully marked their location on the maps. He was sure that artillery would be brought down upon their heads first. He was also sure that for every one he saw, three more were likely hiding in town.

The only silver line he could see was that on the day of the attack, it was all down hill. They could cross from these heights down to the Columbia in an hour; two at most. Under the cover of early morning darkness, they could be across the river before the Limeys even awaken. The artillery crews will just have to make certain the horses do not get away from them.

"Regulars," said Corporal White Hawk. He was a Nez Peirce, one of the tribes loyal to the Federal Government. After over a century of frontier warfare, loyal tribes were they only ones left. He could not remember which county from northern Idaho he hailed, only that he was scout in the Three Hundred Sixteenth Idaho Guard Regiment. His skin was weathered and his eyes dark and keen. He could spot Limeys without binoculars. With them–

Arnold followed his gaze, bringing his glasses back to his eyes. Through them, he spotted several khaki-wearing, rifle-tooting men exit of the town’s largest hotel, a four story brick structure not more than a couple of blocks from the railroad station. Seven of them, and all wore kits far heavier than militia. They walked towards a battered horse-drawn wagon that must have been in Irredeemed Washington since before the British took over. Men of the Regular Army were a new sight, even if they were just Canadians.

"Looks like they’re just starting to mobile," Arnold said in his clipped New Englander tone, more thinking out loud than to anybody in particular. Beneath the cover of hides and blankets, he spotted metal boxes being drug out of the wagon. They looked a little too much boxes of ammo belts for his own taste. It was an odd thing unloading now; a single train has not arrived all day, at least that his ears could pick out. Since the Germans crossed their border, international commerce has ground to a halt this side of the Atlantic. No locomotive has moved west of Quincy in over a week. It was in that even smaller berg were the division’s assets are unloaded and quietly brought forward.

"Captain," spoke the soft-spoken man from Kansas, with his unmistakable Midwestern drawl. He reminded Arnold of a junior classmate back at Fort Arnold, except Corporal James Mitchell was third generation Kansan, all the way back to Bleeding Kansas. His former classmate was only first generation– his own parents fleeing Confederate Texas in search of greener pastures. So to speak.

Mitchell pointed up one of the numerous valleys that tended to branch off the Columbia, carved by its own smaller tributary. Up the Cashmere Valley, Arnold spotted the unmistakable plume of black clouds belched out by a steam engine. He could not hear the engine, but the British were bringing something in by rail. Mitchell voiced this opinion, which Arnold could only reply; "Or are shipping something out."

"Like what, sir?" Mitchell asked. "I hear apples real big in these here parts, but they ain’t gonna be ripe till fall."

Arnold snorted. Apples grow all over the place. Nothing strategic about them, unless the Canucks want them for flapjacks. Arnold ran some numbers in his head, trying to figure out just how many men the Limeys can ship in on one train. No where near the division level of Americans that are just itching to cross the river. With the hilly terrain across the Columbia, even a battalion could be enough to hold of the division’s advances, and through a rusty wrench into the carefully crafted schedule of the U.S. Third Army.

That was not his worry, at least not yet. With his name, he would no doubt be General some day, but for this war, he was only a Captain, a mere mortal by comparison. His was not to worry, only to report what transpired on the Redcoat side of the river. The train was close, perhaps an hour away. After he saw what tumbled off the train, Arnold would bring his report back to Dearborn. No doubt the Colonel would be just as interested to know what faced his division at H-hour as every man under his command.

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