The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Columbia Front, part 2

Wenatchee, Washington

Columbia Front

June 26, 1913

Clive Arnold scrambled up the steep banks of the Columbia, along with thousands of other men, as they braved the crossing under the cover a hundred field guns. After a couple of hours of bombardment, Arnold would have sworn all the Limeys, and their Tory pets would have been dead. Yet somehow, even after countless shells burst into this small town, machine guns still opened fire upon the hundreds of boats as they rowed across the river. The Columbia was not overly wide between Eastmont and Wenatchee, but the current was strong, and carried them further south than Arnold wished to land.

Oh well, as his father always told him, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Besides, somebody clearly neglected to tell the enemy that they were suppose to be dead. He had to give the gunners some credit– his own, not the Tory’s– they did manage to take out most of the enemy artillery emplacements. Too bad they did not reckon rapid-firing weapons worth the expenditure. By the ways some of the river front buildings looked, the gunners must have assumed them far more dangerous than the sandbagged positions on the corner of Riverfront Drive and 5th Street. He might not have landed where he planned, but enough hours were spent observing this town to know its layout well enough.

He buried his face in the muck of the banks, along with his men, as a shell burst in the river. Did the Tories have a gun left, or did one of his own nation’s shells fall short. Not that it mattered to the boat it hit; its passengers were beyond caring. Arnold swore under his breath as he glanced from back over his shoulder down to his own side arm. Unlike so many enlisted who swarmed the riverbank, Arnold had but a trusty Colt 1910 semi-automatic, along with his tomahawk. The biggest draw back to this crossing under fire was that he could not be riding as cavalry, as he trained. Of course, horses made bigger targets than men, and he would likely be gunned down faster that way. Just because his illustrious ancestor died defending the Capital Building back in the Second War with England, did not mean Clive Arnold was ready to follow in his footsteps. Maybe when he was as old as Benedict when the British gunned him down, but not now.

His Colt was packed full of mud. Despite the day being cloudless and bright, he still manage to clog up his own sidearm. Next to him, Corporal Mitchell saw it. He spoke, but Arnold could not hear him over the exploding shells and .30 rounds whirling past his head. ‘Tough break’, or something like that.

Arnold shouted over the noise. “Doesn’t matter, we’re still moving forward!” His sidearm went back into his holster and he whirled his blade in the air. Soldiers around him rallied to his call, though the tomahawk would do little against machine guns. Perhaps not, he thought with a savage grin, but we shall see how these new grenades do. He gestured to the three enlisted men to his left, to pull pins and throw, while pointing just up the bank. At the moment, their heads were still below street level as well as out of the arc of the river which the gunners spat fire towards.

Pull the pins and throw, that was what the men were trained to do. According to the chaps who designed these little bombs, pulling the pin popped the handle and started a five second fuse. None of his men waited to see. The grenades left their hands the moment the pins were pulled. On grenadier was tad taller than the others, and the top of his intercepted the line of fire. His head vanished in a hurry as the rest of him keeled over and fell back into the river. Arnold did not look back. He did not want to see how many Americans already floated face-down in the might Columbia.

In imperfect precision, all three grenades went off. They must have hit, for the nearest machine gun went quiet. With a sudden surge, like a tide breeching the Dutch dikes, Americans swarmed up onto Riverside Drive. Sure enough, one of the grenades landed smack in the middle of the gun nest, and shrapnel tore the Tories operating the machine to pieces. Arnold did not have long to enjoy the small victory, before another machine gun opened up on them. One of the two surviving grenadiers went down, and Mitchell growled a curse as he threw himself against the torn sandbags.

Arnold took refuge behind the corner of one building, a warehouse of sorts. Mitchell was on the opposite side of the intersection, his trouser legging turning purple as red blood mixed with Union blue. By the way Mitchell cursed the Canadians and British seven ways from Sunday, Arnold thought it a flesh wound. Mitchell pointed the muzzle of his Springfield carbine over the top of the sandbags and fired off a round blindly. The weapon quickly took cover while he worked the bolt. That was the beauty of his filthy Colt; it could fire off rounds as fast as he could pull the trigger.

Arnold risked a peak around the corner, long enough to see the muzzle flashes from the second floor window of a nice, new brick building. Below the apartment, at least he assumed it was an apartment, sat a hardware store with blown in windows. The street had a few new craters, carved by shells falling short. As fast as he peaked around the corner, his head was back in safety. No point in giving the enemy a target. Besides, Arnold was rather attached to his head. Rounds flew past him, cutting down dozens of American soldiers climbing the river bank.

If he had any grenades– no, that would not do him any good. Arnold was a horrible throw. He did not doubt he could throw the distance, but his aim was atrocious. He was about to call for a grenadier, when soldiers behind him kicked in one of the warehouse’s side doors. Arnold cursed himself a fool for not thinking of it before. Buildings were not giant boulders, solid blocks of stone, after all. He ordered Mitchell to stay down until that machine gun was silenced, and felt a bigger fool as soon as the words left his mouth. What else would a wounded man do?

Arnold followed the other men into the warehouse, his tomahawk held high. It was a futile gesture, for any Tory inside would shoot him down the moment he saw him. That was another drawback to being a horrible throw; did him no good to chuck his tomahawk like the Iroquois Regiments. Arnold ran smack into a wall of cool the moment he stormed the warehouse. It was a fruit shed, and a refrigerated one to boot. Light was poor, for all they had for illumination were skylights. He could see clear enough to see a half-dozen Americans storming up the stairs. A good idea; shoot the gunners from above. Arnold followed off chance these soldiers did not know where the machine gun sat.

From the roof, only three stories off the ground, he could see the hurricane of blue still crossing the Columbia. Arnold briefly forgotten he was in the first wave, much to Colonel Dearborn’s consternation. Arnold believed the worry was more over informing General Arnold of his son’s death, than for any genuine concern. Arnold moved forward to the soldiers, crouched over in a stoop.

As he guessed, the soldiers were only poking their heads up for a second, scanning for the gunners. Arnold moved beside them quickly. Four of the six men were kids, probably just starting their tours of duty this year in their States’ National Guard regiments. He wagered none expected to have war when they gave their John Hanncocks on the dotted line. The other two were older, but not by much. One was a Corporal around Arnold’s age, and was suddenly astonished to see a Captain charging towards him.

“Second floor window, on the corner,” he shouted into the Corporal’s ear. Above the battle, the sounds were not as deafening as in the manmade canyons below, but it certainly was not any quieter.

The Corporal nodded, and shouted orders to his own men. Three of them lined up shots on the gunners, and as one, they fired. All of a sudden, Arnold could hear one less machine gun firing. Arnold risked another exposure of his head. With that gun silent, soldiers moved up Fifth Street towards the next obstacle. No sooner than he lowered his head down to safety, did he hear the freight train sound of a shell roar over his head and slam into the building across the street. Arnold swore a vicious oath under his breath. If only the batteries would have done that a couple minutes ago; it would have saved a few lives.

Another thought suddenly struck him. A shell could land on this warehouse at any moment. He barked orders to the men, which he did not recognize from his own Company. It was time to get back down on the street and into the thick of things. They were going to take Wenatchee, even if they had to do so one machine gun nest at a time.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Birds of Wake

Wake Island Rail
Status: Critically endangered.

Prior to World War II, the Wake Island Rail, a species of flightless bird found only on the islands of Wake and Willes, though not on Peale, was unknown outside of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Numbers of these only native bird to Wake are nonexistent before ecologists visited the island in the 1950s. The species struggled through the Japanese invasion and occupation; their curious nature making them easy to catch. They almost did not survive the American recapture of the island in 1943, with much of their habitat destroyed, along with that year’s nests and breeding pairs. In 1957, only seven breeding pairs were discovered on the island, out of a total of seventeen known birds. In a publicity move, the joint Navy-Air force custodians of the island adopted the bird as the base’s mascot. Construction of an expanded airfield on Wake forced the relocation of the surviving birds to Willes Island, where Naval, Air Force and Interior Department personnel began a captive breeding of the bird. By 1977, the numbers have risen to thirty breeding pairs, which ended the captive breeding program. Despite the unintentional introduction of rats to the islands, the Rail has made a slight come back, topping out with one hundred three breeding pairs by 2011, with a few of the birds finding their way back to Wake. Willes continues to be off limits to unauthorized personnel, and the species is still at risk of extinction by rats or even a rouge tsunami.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 Senatorial election results

A map of the disposition of American Senators following the most recent election. Keep in mind that they are still elected by State Assemblies. Looks like the Progressives have the edge, but no clear majority. The Socialists have been largely confined to New England, and the South is slowly shifting from its traditional Democratic base to the Libertarian Party.