Friday, July 1, 2016

Final Blackout - Chapter V part II - Credit Where It's Not Due

The action continues, and it's just as excitingly one-sided as everything else we've seen before this point.  Sergeant Pollard is the acting commander of the brigade, and though "He sorely missed his lieutenant" he does a competent enough job of leading the others.  Carstone's machine guns work in turns to keep up constant suppressive fire, and Gian's artillery is able to knock down any steel doors that are dropped to slow their progress.  The only real obstacle is that regurgitant powder, but luckily its effect "had been slight and was wearing away."

Wait, didn't some in the brigade have gas masks when they were smoking out that civvie village?  And why wouldn't all of them have gas masks if there's been enough chemical warfare to discolor the local greenery?

Anyway, the only trouble Fourth Brigade is having is figuring out where to go - Pollard realizes that he's leading the men deeper underground, into the heart of the fortress, but resolves to just push through until they come out the other side.  He does wish "Oh, if the leftenant were only here to tell them!"  I'm just not sure what he wishes Lefty would tell them.  "Keep up the good work?"  "Turn around you idiot?"

There's a moment when they come to a halt because Pollard "sensed rather than heard or felt the machine gun which had hastily been thrown on a barricade to bar their way" around a turn up ahead, and good luck figuring that out.  Maybe all the radiation and artificial plagues have given some soldiers superpowers.  The enemy weapon doesn't even get a chance to fire, though, Gian wheels up one of his guns and bounces a round off the wall and around the corner, then Weasel's scouts finish off the hapless survivors.

They do take one prisoner, though, an orderly found in some otherwise-abandoned offices.

"Soldier," said Bulger, sticking his bayonet into the orderly's ribs and tickling him up a bit, "if you want to live, you'll lead us straight as a bullet to our leftenant."

"Y-y-you are the Fourth Brigade?"

Note that Bulger didn't have to specify which lieutenant he was looking for, and thus reveal that the main character's name is Yancy or something, which would utterly destroy the mystique around him and cause the reader to toss the book over their shoulder.  Thanks to General Victor's systematic removal of every low-ranking officer he comes across, Lefty would seem to be the only lieutenant in the entire fortress.  So the orderly knows who Bulger is asking about, and Lefty's secret identity remains secure.

Fourth Brigade follows their hostage, meeting no further resistance, and of course tries to straighten their uniforms when they are led to a particular door.

Pollard knocked with his pistol butt.

The lieutenant opened it.

Pollard gave one of his very rare salutes, though he forgot to take the gun out of his hand first. "Sergeant major Pollard, sir. Fourth Brigade all present and accounted for. Will... will you please take command?"

It was very hard, then, for the lieutenant to keep full control of his emotions.

So it's not actually the lieutenant who takes action against the corrupt general, it's his loyal soldiers who fight their way through the fortress and rescue our hero, all so Lefty can be the one to "lead" them even though they've been doing a fine job of leading themselves.  Because they just have to have an aloof upper-class (but not too upper-class) officer around to make things right.

I think this is why monarchy is such an enduring form of government, there's like some defect in humans that makes them need someone around to be better than them.

We cut then to General Victor and his lackeys, "Burrowed like a rat with a phobia against hawks" in the depths of the fortress, whereas a real leader would set up his command post at the very uppermost part of a bunker, just daring the bombs to hit him.  It takes an hour after giving the order to execute the renegade soldiers for word to come back that things aren't going well - the garrison troops report that they're missing their guns.  No, I don't think Fourth Brigade was stealing weapons last night and the author didn't tell us, presumably the base garrison thinks "I've misplaced my weapon" is a better excuse than "you idiots were stupid enough to let them keep their artillery and machine guns."

At any rate, that orderly Pollard held hostage eventually shows up and says the lieutenant is offering terms of surrender, and though Smythe is outraged - "Surrender!  By all that ever was holy!" - Victor is smart enough to submit, and so joins the garrison on the top of the bunker complex, where eighteen hundred men are waiting in the mud under the guns of less than two hundred grunts  And of course the lieutenant is there too.

"See here," said Smythe, beginning without preamble.  "This is mutiny, murder and desertion; a hellish plot!"

"A plot?" inquired the lieutenant innocently.

"You know very well what it is!" said Smythe.  "You cannot deny it.  You stocked your men up with food an brought them here.  You knew what effect that would have upon the garrison.  You knew that when you ordered your men to revolt there would be no hand to oppose them.  This is a vile trick!"

Guess it's a lose-lose for military leaders.  Either they feed their men and they get rebellious like Fourth Company, or they starve their soldiers and they get apathetic, like the garrison.

"Perhaps, Colonel Smythe, perhaps.  But you are wrong in saying that I ordered my men to revolt.  That was not necessary, you know."

Nor did Lefty have to give them any directions on the battlefield.  We might wonder why they even need him around.

Lefty admits that getting revenge on his superiors sounds tempting, but he's willing to settle for ammunition and other supplies, so once they help themselves to what's in the fortress Fourth Brigade will be on its way.

General Victor thrust Smythe aside.  "According to international law, sir, you are a brigand."

"If we must have law," said the lieutenant courteously, "then let it be military law, by which you are a fool.  Now please stand aside while we get on with this business."

I think even if you go by military law, Lefty is a mutineer.  Unless the argument is that Victor was planning on going rogue anyway, and you can't mutiny against another renegade, except Lefty isn't exactly planning on remaining loyal to the government in London after this, as we'll soon see.

Swinburne, Carstair, Pollard, Tou-tou and Thomas O'Thomas all looked wonderingly at the lieutenant.  They had no inkling of this as a deliberate scheme, but now they saw it clearly.  They saw it in terms of numbers and guns, and gasped at the realization that the lieutenant had captured the only existing fortress

His men did that you idiots.  Lefty sat in his room and felt sad while they did all the fighting.

in the countryside, garrisoned by sixteen hundred men,

Sixteen hundred malnourished men with no stomach for combat.

with not the loss of one in all his own command.

It helps that they were allowed to keep their machine guns and artillery with them and were crazy enough to use them in a cramped underground environment.  And again, their enemies were either too scared or too apathetic to fight back while our heroes were butchering them.

Their faces softened into gentle worship as they gazed upon their officer.

I can't physically shoot blood out of my eyes like a Texas horned lizard, but let me tell you, it's not for a lack of trying.

So Fourth Brigade raids the fortress for goodies, while Lefty vets all the garrison troops eager to join the unit that was remorselessly gunning down their buddies.  He turns down anyone in favor of soldiers' councils or without at least three years' experience, and makes sure everyone he recruits is physically capable of fighting.  By the next day he has 550 soldiers in Fourth Brigade, now organized into two regiments and an artillery company.  No, he doesn't promote himself to "the colonel" or "the major-general."  Those are high ranks, and therefore bad.

The lieutenant was very thorough.  Each man had a good pair of boots, a rainproof cape, a visored helmet, a semiautomatic rifle, a breastplate, three bandoleers of ammunition, a canteen, a bayonet, a sharp-sided spade, six grenades, a good overcoat, two uniforms of regulation British slate blue, and an adequate haversack.  The baggage carts were brimming with spare ammunition and condensed food.  The artillery unit now had eight pieces and sixty noncombatants to draw them.

Hubbard thought it was important, so here it is.  And man, who knows?  Was he trying to show off how much he knew about a military man's kit?  Is he feeling bitter about being under-equipped back in the Montana Army National Guard or Marine Corps Reserve and is showing people how to properly prepare a soldier for combat?

Also, the British army adopted a khaki color scheme in 1902, then switched to a camouflaged brown-and-green battledress in 1938.  I have no idea why Hubbard thought the British either wore blue uniforms or would adopt them in the near-ish future when the color is better associated with Prussian or French forces.

But off they go, Swinburne and Carstair now leading Fourth Brigade's First and Second Regiments, a motley collection of soldiers from all over Europe (except Germany and the Balkans), as well as Turks and a "Moor" or two, all marching to the tune of a bagpiper formerly of the Hellfire Highlanders.  And General Victor is actually sad to see them leave.

"It was wrong," said General Victor.  "There's reason, then, why a field officer should be treated well.

Yeah, it turns out that if you don't mistreat people, there's a reduced chance that they'll betray you.  I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but it's true!

Smythe, I would to Heaven we had kept him under our command."

Especially since your "army" was starving and this guy had a proven record of finding food and supplies.  Good grief these bad guys are stupid.

Actually, it's worse than that, they're just smart enough to realize how stupid they are, even though the plot still mandates that they shoot themselves in the foot.  Most Hubbard Villains are blissfully unaware of their own incompetence, but I almost feel sorry for General Victor.

"There's no use talking about it now," said Smythe bitterly.  "That outfit is headed for England!"

"You... you think so?" said the startled Victor.

"I'm certain.

I think Smythe cheated and read ahead.

"Come, we owe it to London to tell them of this revolt and of the man that led it.

London, home of the regime you guys helped into power, but in turn exiled you to darkest France?  The regime you were planning on ditching anyway so you could be dukes or whatever in post-apocalyptic continental Europe?  The regime you have no reason to be loyal to, or care about the fate of?

This debt will yet be paid."

Oh, I guess it's about revenge.  They're so mad they were stupid and antagonized the lieutenant that they're going to be even more stupid and side with their enemy to get back at him.

Back to Chapter V part I 

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