’49 – Jenkins
Jenkins kept his M1941a rifle trained on the shivering family—centered on the oldest boy, who he thought more likely than the father to do something stupid—and wished again he’d taken his gloves off before they’d rushed the building. To prevent accidentally hating himself forever his finger was beside the rifle’s trigger guard, not on the trigger. But the stolen leather gloves he wore were just thick enough he was suddenly afraid that if he did have to shoot one of them, or even try a warning shot, he wouldn’t be able to jam his gloved finger into the trigger guard fast enough to keep control of the situation. He’d kept the gloves on to make sure his finger wasn’t numb from cold, but now…
As always, Lt. Morgan’s voice was calm and clear. Jenkins glanced over his shoulder for just a second to see if Corporal Flores would nod, as she sometimes did, rather than answer verbally. He saw her inhale, and immediately locked his gaze back on the two adults, one teen, and three children in nightshirts. The older boy had shifted his weight when Jenkins looked away, and now froze again. He resolved not to give the lanky teen any more room to make life-ending decisions.
Jenkins always expected Flores to sound breathy and demure, and she never did. He supposed it was because the tech was the only woman he saw anymore, and before she got assigned on TF-Day his only regular exposure to femininity for six years had been taxi dancers and radio broadcasts. But Flores’ voice had an edge behind it, and if it wavered at all that was only because she hadn’t slept for three days. She was always light sleeper, as might be expected of a woman bunking in the rough with an 12-man rifle squad. But for days she’d been using a hand-held antenna she’s cobbled together—the men thought of it as Flores’ Curler—to find a radio signal from a short-wave transceiver… or something like that. Once Flores started talking about single sidebands and killer-hurts, Jenkins got lost.
“Yep Lieu, something, but nothing much good.” Jenkins’ quick glance had showed him that Flores had one cup of her field-headset over her left ear, with her badly banged up field radio hooked by wires to a bigger set they’d found in the family’s small electronics shop. She’d clearly gotten the whole rig working, another miracle to be noted when she was brought up for sainthood. Jenkins assumed she waved Lt. Morgan over to listen to the other end of the headset, since the lieutenant crossed the room to stand next to her. For several long moments no one spoke, and Jenkins could hear the hiss of snow outside and the muffled squawk of voices over the radio.
“We not… tysk?”
The trembling voice of the woman in the nightshirt did sound like Jenkin’s theoretical radio-girl, except for the heavy Norwegian accent. He was startled enough he lowered his rifle from center-mass to a sloppy leg shot and spat out “What, sweetheart?”
“We…,” the woman gestured to her whole family, “not tysk. Not soldat.”
Jenkins got over his surprise at her English, broken as it was, and caught on.
“We know.” He tried to keep it simple. Her English was going to be better than his Norwegian. “We will not harm. We go, soon.”
The mother bit her lip. She was pretty, in a slightly matronly way, and Jenkins was annoyed at himself for noticing. She was pale and had no make-up, having been rousted a few hours before dawn, but her eyes were crisp green, and her hair a glowing long blond braid. She was also, he realized, moving to stand between himself and the tallest of her two daughters.
“That! Can you make that stronger?” Clearly the lieu was talking to Flores about something he heard. Or hoped he heard.
“Not with this crap.”
It always shocked Jenkins when Flores cussed.
“I’m amazed we’re getting as much as we are. Some of it must be bouncing off the snow clouds. We can’t broadcast on any of our channels either, and they just don’t have what I need for a full repair. It wouldn’t be coded anyway, the babel is totally shot, and we’d never decode any reply.”
The oldest boy took a tiny sideways step. Jenkins locked eyes with him, brought the rifle back up to aim at the teen’s chest, and shook his head slowly. The father put one huge hand firmly on the wayward youth’s elbow, and squeezed hard. The gangly teen stopped moving, and looked at the ground. Jenkins prayed that was a sign of acquiescence, and not building determination.
Flores was still talking.
“This is good as that’s going to get, but it sure sounds real, and it sounds close. I can’t say for sure how far my box can pick things up with their big antennae, but it can’t be more than ten miles or so. I’m sure it’s south. Probably pretty close to Sweden.”
Lt. Morgan paused before speaking. “Can the Tumbleweed make it that far?”
“Maybe, just, if we get lucky on terrain. She’s got a bunch of bad fins, and one gyro is totally shot. Our best chance is if it’s just me inside driving, since I’m the lightest.”
Lt. Morgan walked to Jenkins’ side and turned his back to the family so they couldn’t see him softly speaking.
“Sergeant, what are the chances we can safely stay here a night or two?”
Jenkins shook his head, but didn’t take his eyes off the family. “None, sir. I don’t think they’re Skaugies, but I don’t think they’re resistance either. What they mostly are is worried and afraid. If we push our uninvited stopover, the younger kid is definitely going to get a case of stupid.”
Lt. Morgan removed his glassed and pinched the bridge of his nose, and said nothing. As the silence grew, so did Jenkins’ concern. When the lieu stayed in that position for several seconds, the sergeant cleared his throat.
“Sir, we can’t stay here without locking these folks in a cellar or something. It sounds like you didn’t pick up any clear signal from command or any of the units we hoped to link up with?”
Lt. Morgan dropped his hand, and replaced his glasses as he shook his head.
“No, it sounds like everyone had as terrible an arrival as we did, and no one is in position. It’s skirmishes and falling back and calls for support. Not a repeat of ’44, but bad enough. It may take weeks for a firm beachhead to be established, if one ever is, and we don’t have that kind of time. We need to find someplace we can either repair or scuttle the Tumbleweed, and if possible we need to link up with someone. Flores has a signal that sounds like a friendly force, but…”
“Not, I take it, Expeditionary troops, sir?”
“No, sergeant. Night Ogres, if the signal is genuine. At least two, maybe more.”
Jenkins felt himself give a heavy sigh. Any Expeditionary unit could be counted on to be reasonably dependable and professional. Night Ogres were Russian, and he was never clear if they were considered heavy infantry or light walkers. That was better than dealing with Free Corps, but maybe not by a lot. On the other hand, any heavy infantry was likely to have a mechanic and supply officers, or something similar. And Russian forces might still have a working supply line, or at least a known rendezvous point. If there was any shot of getting the Tumbleweed back to full fighting rotation, especially if they were going to have to fight their way back to some distant position, it was worth the risk.
Even as Jenkins decided he needed to recommend joining up with the Night Ogres, Lt. Morgan nodded to himself and clasped Jenkins’ shoulder. Jenkins had no idea why that made him feel better, but it always did. The lieu’s voice held no hint of doubt.
“Flores, grab what you can that might help keep us in contact. Get Kovac and Spencer as pack mules if you need them, and tell them to get their gear out of Joe-Louis. They’re walking. Jenkins, keep the locals calm and controlled until I give you the word, then we’ll back out. They may raise a ruckus, but if the father is building crystal sets for a living he’s a smart man. I think we can trust to know if he can see us we can also see, and shoot, him. I don’t think they’ll raise an alarm until we’re out of site, and by then the storm will give us cover.”
Jenkins nodded, and let the muzzle of his rifle drop an inch or so. He hoped that made him look like he felt it was less likely he’d have to shoot them. Nazis he was ready to shoot, and Skaugum collaborators were just tall Nazis. Heck, in six years of fighting he’d shot kriegshunds, jotuns, ghuls, kyries, and automats without batting an eye or losing a wink. Set a few on fire too, and blown up an unknown number.
But even to keep his brothers- (and sister-) in-arms safe, he wasn’t sure he could shoot a family in cold blood, just because they’d owned a radio.
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