The rain outside was one of those great tropical rains that seemed to force everything out of its path. In the Jesselton of yesteryear, it would have caused a great flood, but in the new Jesselton, the floodworks were working, and there was no danger. Yet it was heavy enough to stop wholly the life of the city, in peace or in war.
Inside a very thickly walled room, Harper delivered his briefing. Confronted by Colonels, and Brigadiers, and Major Generals, he had no other choice but to begin humbly.
'I did not have a choice in taking this appointment. This was by command of the Cousin of the King. I understand you are all loyal to General Colton-Kelsey. That is understandable. But we have to work together to finish this thing tonight.'
'Tonight?' General Taylor interrupted. 'In this weather? I don't think my boys will take too kindly. There could be a bloody hurricane out there in a couple of hours.' His three brigade commanders, a Sikh, a Malay, and a White, nodded in agreement. The North Point Colonel whose Brigade was attached to the Division sat completely still and wordless.
Harper did not move. He looked Taylor in the eyes. 'If White troops won't fight in the rain, then the job will be done by Gorkhas.' There was a slight whooping from a collection of Gurkha officers from the Fifth Division on the other side of the room. Ayo Gorkhali! one of them yelled.
Colonel Singh stood up, his dark blue turban dim in the light. The insignia of the The Princess of Malaya's Own Paratroopers stood out on the turban amongst everything else. It was a proud Regiment led by a proud man, with a very proud mustache. 'That is a dishonour to our Brigade, Sir.'
General Taylor rolled his eyes. ' Sit down Kana. Listen, Brevet Lieutenant-General, First Airborne has Sikh, Malay, and White troops. And they fight just as well in the rain as they do in the sun.'
Harper ignored him and continued. 'Is Colonel Azfar here?'
In peacetime, Colonel Azfal bin Abdul Sulamein Hebat owned farms. If you ate a bell pepper in Haversham or Bewford or Jacksonville, it was probably grown by Colonel Azfal. During the civil war he had raised a unit of tanks - Azfal's Cuirassiers - and his exploits became the stuff of legend, so much that his unit became the 2nd Royal Cavalry Regiment, Azfal's Cuirassiers. Azfal designed the uniform of the Regiment himself, and he stood out in the briefing, with his cavalry boots, khaki jodphurs, a dark blue shirt and a huge holster slapped across his waist with a fat North Point revolver wedged between the leather. The wide brimmed stetson hat on his head with the gold keris lapel was only slightly darker than his skin: as far as fashionable soldiery went, Azfal had had his cake and eaten it too. He was the most famously closeted homosexual in the western Commonwealth.
'Jeneral saya,' Azfal shouted, leaning leftwards, hands on his hips.
'We'll be needing your tanks. You have all the maps before you, gentlemen. You'll have Azfal's tanks to crush the barricades in the alotted sectors. The Army of Observation will be working with us, so co-operate with them. You have their channels on your radios, the procedures will be the same. Shoot anyone you need to. Restore order. I don't give a damn about the weather or the time of day. This may not be the war, but the enemy has weapons and they're willing to shoot. Try to bring all our boys back home if you can. Go and restore order, and do not be afraid to be vicious. A mob never appreciates mercy.'
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