What If

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Re: What If

Postby Questers » Thu Aug 16, 2018 7:20 pm

Day One: The flies were gathering

A cannon tracked the land rover as it came into the plantation, past the trees lining the path and through the short brown brick walls. A subaltern popped out of the scout car's little turret and jumped out to greet the newcomer. "Major Walker," he saluted.

"Any news Sir?"

"Hullo Benson. All the nets at Headquarters are still down. Lots of traffic on the road. Scared people. Took me two hours to get over here. Could be there's a war on. Have you any tea, by the way?"

The subaltern waved a sowar to get some tea. "But there's no milk, Sir."

"You should get some," the Major said. "Look, you need to get your people out there. Headquarters told me to get the whole Troop out. We're in front. But first, tea, and some chow. There's no rush."

"Could be there's a war on, Sir."

"There's no rush. Have you any chappatis?"
It would be the right moment. Praetonia busy with Quiberon, Abdul dead and nobody ready to take his place, the country scared, disordered, broken apart.

And the nets were dead, and the front of the front of the Frontier Force could speak to nobody. Like the birds and insects knew there was going to be rain, the locals in the Yehud seemed to be able to tell when a fight was coming, and had gone either to ground or to flight. They hid in their squat little homes and waited, or they went on the road, to find family and friends and shelter.
Benson's four scout cars saw the Yehudis go by on the big roads, cars and trucks with whole families somehow inside, as if someone had had to push them to fit, their whole earthly belongings sitting on top. Here and there, a pickup truck with a family goat, and even once a family on a motorcycle being towed by a donkey. Where they were going, he did not know.

They came to the big river. Major Walker came to find Benson. "Might be there's a fight tonight, or the day after. Well, if there is, and the nets are still down, all the best. I think I have trained you as well as I could. You and your people slow the enemy as much as you can and try to get back to Nimruz to make a report. I hope to see you on the other side. Okay then!"

"Long live the Countess," Benson said, trying to say the words despite the heavy stones in his stomach. Walker threw the famous Hussar salute, and left. The Countess of Yandigarh's Hussars would get their fight. After all — 'Any hussar who is not dead by the age of thirty is a blackguard.'


The sound of distant gunfire woke Benson. That was it then. They were coming. A raid? An invasion? For what? Did it matter?
The short range net was working. Benson got his people up and cast them out over a low ridge, anti-infrared camo nets up, guns ready. You could see the big river moving at night. You could see the power in it, even at night. It was going fast.

There were markings on either side of the big river. Tracks in the mud; light tanks, probably. Why had they crossed here?

The job was to find them. Stop them getting to the rear area. Benson pulled his people back. Where would they be going?

Probably to the cross-roads between Maseleh and Samahah, to see if anyone was there. Clear the big road for the tanks, when they came. That's where Benson would have gone. Benson's Patrol, the four scout cars, dashed across the land, covering each other as they went. They had to be fast.

The gunfire far away had become a little closer. Benson could pick them out. They were the same shells that he had in his own car. He knew the sound. The other sound? He was not sure. Machineguns, yes. Cannons. Not their own.

One of his scout cars blew up. Not just died, but blew up. The short range net was still quiet. No shouting. There was a shot, and an explosion further away, in a treeline, behind a drain ditch. "Got one!"

Another shell, nearby. Benson pulled his scout cars back behind a barn. He got out and had a look. One had indeed been got; a short, pointed little vehicle. Little figures had jumped out and were hugging the ground next to it. So, they can definitely be killed, Benson thought.

"Get out of here. Go around and keep moving to the crossroads. I'll cover and follow."

The last two cars reversed and went back. Benson could see one of the enemy scout tracks on the other side of the drain ditch. It was coming towards him. The track jumped over the drain ditch and fired, and the barn burst into splinters. Benson got back in the car only to find he was drenched in blood and wood. They had been briefed many times about these light tanks. They had tried shooting up wooden mockups. Now the real thing was here, all Benson could remember was that it could kill him. But he could also kill it. The scout car backed up and ran behind a row of empty huts, coming out on the far side of the field. The enemy tank was firing machineguns into what was left of the barn. Benson put a shell in its side from two hundred yards and it began to smoke.

He did not stick around to see if it had been killed.

The light was coming up now. The change from night to day turned the dusty paths and the dry ground into a pale orange. It went well with the little red light in Benson's car. He was on his own now. The roads were empty, but the sounds of battle still carried. There were meant to be workers on the plantations, trucks with wooden walls carrying piles of fat green mangoes. Instead, nothing. Not even the dawn cockerel.

The car stopped. There was a tight bend in the path, still flanked by tall trees, tall enough to stop most of the rising sunlight coming in. A Frontier Force scout car lay, lightly smoking, by the side of the road, its khaki paint peppered with black holes. Benson saw that the man slumped over the commander's hatch was his Daffadar. HIs turban was covered in blood.

The scout car inched forwards; a second car lay, nose down in a drain ditch, with its crew spread out around it on the floor, still. The flies were gathering. Benson was sick, and last nights dinner splashed out onto the dirt. As he looked up, there were six carbines pointed at him by men in dark fatigues.

"Halt! Comitatus! Give up your weapons!"
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Re: What If

Postby Questers » Thu Aug 16, 2018 7:21 pm

Day Two - Bandit country

Dalal had to leave. The Colonel would not move on this point. "If you stay here, we can not be responsible for your safety."

"I'm a reporter. My safety is my own."

The Colonel had taken him to one side. "Do you know what will happen here the next time they come back? This is a key road junction. They'll want to take it to push their traffic to supply their army. Every hour we can slow them here is another hour for the Frontier Force to get ready. So we're going to fight like hell. They will throw everything they have at us. Tanks, heavy infantry, lots of artillery." Dalal was silent then. "The Pokhara Fusiliers will likely simply cease to exist after this. That's why you and the wounded have to go back now."

Dalal did not argue. The fight had gone on all night long, but the Gurkhas had been dug in, and had held the line there. Dalal had not felt like this before. He was not hungry nor thirsty, nor even that sleepy. But he had not slept in nearly two days. Something in him was missing.

When he walked to the convoy, he took back his feeling. Three large trucks filled with wounded men, too wounded to even try to fight, were waiting by the main road. Dalal realised he was not really missing something then. But he was too tired to be scared or to vomit. The Colonel came to see him off. "When you get home, tell them what you saw here."

Then the Colonel was gone. The door to a land rover was open. Dalal got in, rested his head, and fell asleep before the convoy was even moving.


It was poor sleep. He woke every half an hour, groggy and dry. He stared out the window until he fell asleep again. The roads had military traffic. Armoured cars streaming in one direction, trucks in another. As the night of the second day began to set in, things began to lose their shadows, and from foreign light, everything seemed ghostly.

In a far away field, a crashed helicopter, metal splayed out across the ground. There was no more fire, just char. Nearby, a platoon of trucks smoked lightly; the smoke was lighter than the night sky, making it prominent, and all its movements visible. It snaked slowly upwards. The day had already closed, and from the jeep which carried him steadily rearwards, Dalal could not make out clear pictures. Did he dream the man screaming by the road? Was the upturned bus really there, bodies spilling from its windows? How about the battered up windows, the full washing lines flapping at night, owners long gone?

Dalal slept again, rough and shallow sleep, which probably hurt him more than helped him. He awoke to heat. They were parked by a plantation.

The very soil boiled. Brimstone bubbled across what used to be date trees. Here and there, piles of what looked like hot coals churned thick smoke, and the broad, rising gas shook above the ground, even in the night. The tiny sulfuric fires went out and started again here and there, dancing across the ground of the plantation, and around what was left of an artillery battery. There were six little blackened bodies. They reminded Dalal of burned sausages.

There was traffic up front. Some kind of jam. Dalal got out of the car, lit a cigarette, and stood by the flaming plantation. Like a hot cloth, and in waves, thick, sludgy heat washed over his face. Not five feet in front of him sat a bomblet, spinning, dark grey and definitely evil. Flames licked at a soda can next to it. Dalal walked back to the land rover. The picture in his mind of the bomblets fin going round and round lulled him into a deep and compelling sleep.


The light had come up, Dalal woke, and noticed they had stopped next to a small bridge over a short river. The driver wasn't in the land rover, so Dalal got out and had a walk about. A risala of four tanks sat on the other side of the bridge, guns still. Somewhere behind them there was motion, and Dalal could see other vehicles, smaller and more numerous, coming and going. A battery of missiles pointed to the sky. The plantation was still in Dalal's mind, so they did not make him feel safer.

The driver came and told Dalal he was going back, so Dalal would have to find his own way home. Hands in pockets, Dalal crossed the bridge, and was stopped by a stout little tank commander sitting on the top of his steed. Dalal told him his story and flashed his card.

"You must be the cavalry," Dalal said.

"Oh," the white Risaldar replied, "rather."

"Where are we?"

"Sorry, are you quite mad?"

"I mean, are we still in the Yehud? What's this bridge here?"

The Risaldar waved Dalal over. "Do you see that?" he pointed at the end of the cannon. "Yes? Now look here. Everything behind that is the homeland. And everything in front of that - that's bandit country."

"Are you going to go to bandit country?" Dalal asked.

"Oh," the Risaldar shrugged and lit a cigarette. "I should think so."
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Re: What If

Postby Questers » Thu Aug 16, 2018 7:23 pm

Day Three: A white moustache and a wedding

The Dukesardar liked the doors open. It made bright light fill the helicopter, but the Dukesardar wore sunglasses, so the vast blue ocean seemed darker, more foreboding, but also further away, and harmless. The pilot pointed the Dukesardar's attention west, and there he saw a flight of aircraft streaming up in that incredible, empty sky, off to do battle. He wished them luck. They were going to need it.

Ambala was far away now. It had taken ten minutes for the Dukesardar to choose to join his Squadron in the field, but it had taken a day and a half for him to actually get there. He was tired, but he was ready.

The helicopter touched down. Straight away he was met with an honour guard in full Sikh regalia. He gave them a martial salute, because he knew there'd be reporters watching somewhere, but he was really too excited, nervous to hear the details. Very little had gone east. Apparently, there wasn't much to go.

The Dukesardar of Ambala's Horse, an armoured squadron of the Pillar of Cloud Division, had assembled in its forward meeting place; all the men were rallied, the weapons checked, the squadron ready to go. The man the Dukesardar had appointed to run the squadron in his stead was ready to receive him.

Ambit Singh, Colonel, was a good man. Four sons and three daughters, one of whom was betrothed to a child of the Dukesardar. War had become a family business. The Dukesardar met him in a command tent which backed out into a dirty personnel carrier.

"It's bloody good to see you Sir. Yahaan chaaron or bahut total chaos rahee hai. The Squadron hai ki aap kuchh guidance denge. Me too, Sir. We're all tired."

"I'm sure. You have done a good job Ambit. Now look. What's the situation?"

"The Comitatus is in the Yehud in force. Our lads there are falling back. They're trying to fight, but they're light mechanised troops, and they don't have a lot of firepower. There's very heavy jamming. They have total air superiority over the Yehud. We could hit their antenna farms, and their airfields, but we're not allowed. Rules, Sir."

"What do you mean rules?"

"The Yehud is not officially part of the Frontier Force's remit. If we attack their facilities, we'll be declaring war. We've not even moved any heavy forces into the Yehud yet. There's been no orders from above. The Marshal is beside himself. We're helpless Sir. If we don't act soon, the whole Yehud will be lost." Ambit Singh clenched his fist. There was quiet in the tent. The Dukesardar chose to say nothing, so Colonel Singh carried on. "We're losing, Sir. And we're taking heavy casualties too."

"Ambit," the Dukesardar said, resting a hand on the man's shoulder, "All we can do now is our duty. Sense will be seen. Battle will be joined. Make sure my boys are ready for when that happens. And for God's sake, make sure you stay out of trouble when it goes down. Tum bahut boodhe ho, quite frankly. It's true. I want to see you at the wedding."

Ambit lit a cigar. "The danger is Sir, that it will be over before we get a chance to do our duty."


As to be expected, the Dukesardar of Ambala was related, although only distantly, to the Jathedar, the chief of all the Sikhs in Questers, and frankly elsewhere too. The Dukesardar had fought alongside the Jathedar; in the playground, as children, on the rugby pitch as men, and in the mutiny as leaders. So they knew each other well, and when they met it was no surprise.

The Jathedar gathered the Dukesardar and all his officers. It was afternoon. There were Army pakoras and plenty of chai, but the Jathedar had brought rum. That's not good, the Dukesardar thought. The Jathedar was trying to tell him something, trying to remind him of past times. That man only breaks the hard stuff out when there's something serious to be done. So when the Jathedar began his speech, the Dukesardar was ready for it.

"Okay gentlemen. If I were a bloody drip, I'd say: shame I couldn't see all you chaps in better times, because that's what boring people say for this kind of thing, isn't it?" Silence. "What I really want to say is that I am bloody glad to be here! I'm bloody glad to be here because I'm aching to have a bloody good crack at the bad guys."

A shout from the audience. Probably a subaltern who had never even met the man before, the Dukesardar thought. "What's changed then eh, Sir!"

Laughter. The Dukesardar joined in too. "Actually, that's what's changed. The bad guys. Now, I don't want to frighten you boys. But this Division has been put in the front. I'm told there's a whole Corps coming at us. Can't tell which one yet. The dushman's got plenty of tanks, artillery, and airpower. He's going to be coming at us in force, hoping to push us out of our positions and break up the Frontier Force. We've got to stop him and give the rest of the Force time to get into position.

I'm told that we're going to have every gun and jet that headquarters can spare us. But I don't believe that's going to save our bacon. We're going to have to fight like devils out there. But I think you're ready for it. I think you're ready to come with me and have a crack at the dushman. So are you coming or not!"

The Dukesardar watched his officers roar in approval. But he knew better than this. The Pillar of Cloud Division was a good outfit.
But it wasn't a full Corps.


"I've half a mind to send you home now, Ambit."

Ambit stood to his full height; six two and taller than the Dukesardar. His whole body shook. "Sir!"

"I'm serious man!"

"I have been to you a dutiful servant, I think a loyal friend, and provided for you a good daughter to marry to your good son. For what reason do you impose this injustice upon me?"

The Dukesardar, in his spectacular rage, swept every item from the desk to the floor. Ambit merely clenched more. "For all of those reasons, Sir!" Ambit simply scowled. "And because if I perish upon the field, there must be one man to give away that wedding."

"It is better for us both to die in the line of duty than for either of us to return to our family as cowards."

"You and I survived the last war. What makes you think we'll survive another?"

Ambit grasped the Dukesardar's shoulder and pulled him close, so close the Dukesardar could smell the daal and cigar smoke on his breath, so damn close he could count the white hairs on his moustache, so close he could measure the folds on his turban. "Nothing makes me think that. But I will shoot myself before I leave you here. Better my sons think of me as a hero and see me as a corpse than think of me as a corpse and see me as a coward. Sir."

The Dukesardar released Ambit's clasp. "Have you prayed today, Ambit Singh, Colonel of Horse?"

"No Sir."

"Then you had better start."
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Re: What If

Postby Questers » Thu Aug 16, 2018 11:23 pm

Day Four - The Return of the King

They watched the stream of vehicles come ever closer. Scout cars, trucks, jeeps, even civilian cars that had been pressed into service. There were still troops out there, in the field in Yehud, fighting the good fight, but nobody knew how many or where they were, or how they were getting on.

"The main force will bypass them," an officer had remarked.

"And try to mop them up with Qorboqs?" another had said. "Fat chance. That's the Ninth Gurkha Rifles out there, you know. All the Qorboqs in Crataea couldn't push a Gurkha off a hill if he didn't want to go."

There was quiet after that, because the retreat was coming closer. It was not the first, and it would not be the last column of vehicles to come back into the Nampataland. Survivors told of overwhelming firepower, waves upon waves of tanks, shells that blotted out the sun, helicopters hunting down stragglers. They told of being beaten, but the Third Division's pickets did not listen. They simply sat around their campfires, ate their curries, and talked about how to get a hold of a dushman's pistol to bring home.

And in the distance, a great host rumbled forward.

The sun stops people from being gloomy. When all around you is bright, and there is life abundant in every tiny corner of the earth that you stand on, and when the sun beats so hard you must squint to see a damn thing and anything metal you touch burns your skin, you can not think of the sense of doom hanging over you. You can only think of things like white cricket colours and daquiris and parasols and pretty bronze girls in pretty pale dresses and so on.

So the men did not think about the big army that was coming to kill them and take their women. Instead, they scorned it, like you would scorn a spider in paradise.


The kitchen, having been made into a headquarters, was stripped of almost everything but a large table, over which was flung a map and the positions of various units. This was where the headquarters of the Third "Pillar of Cloud" Division would fight from.

An aide popped his head into the kitchen. "Another runner, Sir."

"Must be the Majhagarh Carabineers," the Jathedar-General stood back from the table. "They're late. Well, see him in."

He passed around a cigar box, and the staff officers took one each. A zippo lighter was found and every cigar lit in turn. The staff told their approval of their leader's choice in tobacco by filling the room with thick smoke. "You know," the Jathedar-General said, putting his hands on his hips, "We have a good thing going here. We can get the job done."

"Providence is with us Sir," one of them spoke up. "Most units are ahead of schedule. Now we just need a real miracle to break the lock on our combat nets."

"Agreed," the Jathedar-General said, looking around the room again. "If we could talk past this jamming, we could hold them for two days."

"Two days Sir! The Pillar of Cloud could hold the bloody dushman until the monsoon."

A wise man had once told the Jathedar-General that the morale is to the material as three is to one. That still wouldn't make the numbers up, he realised, and then he took the cigar out of his mouth, and opened his mouth to say something sober.

A turbanned Sikh stepped into the room, knees knocking together under bermuda shorts as he made the salute. The General was about to comment until another man, in a uniform he did not know, entered.

"Jathedar! Marshal of the Frontier Smyth sends his warm compliments, Sir."

Cigars nearly fell from mouths. The Jathedar-General turned to face the newcomer. "Marshal of the Frontier Smyth?"

"You haven't heard, Sir? Well, I don't blame you with the communications the way they are. The Imperial Military Council has appointed Archibald Bumpington-Smyth as Marshal of the Frontier. He arrived six hours ago." The runner passed a note to the table. The Jathedar unfolded it, crisp manila paper with the stamp of the General Headquarters.

"Smyth to Third Division. Have taken command at Nampatabad. All prior orders to stand. Have ordered decisive air and rocket attack on enemy jammers to begin by close of day. God Speed and Good Hunting."

The assembled staff broke out into cheers. The Jathedar-General looked down upon the map on the table. He said, slowly, and to nobody: "God's Will."


Night now. Night, and if anyone else was coming back from the Yehud, they had better come quickly, because the Pillar was on the move.

Elsewhere upon the great flood plain that had fed half a continent, the Frontier Force was falling backwards. Moving back to the good ground oin which a good fight would be made. Readying themselves and waiting for the help that would surely come.
But the Pillar was on the move. Great columns of tanks pushed forward over open ground, infantry behind them in cramped carriers, ready now for what was coming. Those who chose to sit on top of their transports gazed up into the moonlit sky and looked for what they could hear: dozens and dozens and dozens of sonic booms.

They knew the story. In just four days the dushman had come and scattered the first line of defence of the Commonwealth and broken open the gate into civilisation. There were lots of them, and they meant business. But now God would strike with his good and just right hand, a man by the name of Smyth. An hour later, God's reward fell upon the advancing regiments of the Frontier Force's Third Division.

The combat nets came alive. The invisible waves that had drowned them had fallen and the tide had gone the other way. So the Division's headquarters could hear their first report.

"Troops in contact!"
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Re: What If

Postby Dumanum » Fri Aug 17, 2018 1:40 am

Day Two: In Partes Tres

The Mula shuddered back and fort- its famously bumpy ride made all the worse by the condition of the Yehudi road.

If they could even call this a road.

Trail was perhaps more accurate, probably carved over thousands of years by the herdsmen that lived in the nearby village. This was the rule, rather than the exception, in Crataea- this was simply How Things Were beyond the frontier. In barbarian lands. Proper roads were for civilized folk, and this was far beyond civilization.

The village had already been secured by special forces; nobody would be taking a shot at Herminius today. Or, at least for the next few hours while he was in the village.

It was built according to the custom of the peoples residing in Iehuda Transsegina, that is, Yehud on the Far Side of the Segina: squat, square houses of clay brick, each with high windows and a central courtyard where the family hearth lay. These were arranged in concentric circles extending out from a central circle where the largest house- the chieftain’s - and the village well, was situated. The further out from the middle you went, the less important the home. Thus, the more expendable folk were always on the outer perimeter, giving the chieftain and his household guard time to mobilize in the event of an attack.

They’d practiced sweeping such hamlets hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. They had little mock-ups just like this in several of the proving grounds. They were generally fairly accurate- they even had actors playing the locals speaking the right languages and everything. The one thing they missed- a seemingly minor detail that, none the less, was the very thing that jerked Herminius into reality- was the smell. That odd mixture of rendered down human and animal waste in an open air trench that, when the wind caught it right, you could smell for miles off. Well, that and the smell of the locals. These were the Atrebates- an offshoot of the Iehumeri, latent clients of Dumanum’s newest -and most relevant- client. This hamlet, Arras e Lakhtar, was situated on a strategic hill that gave them control over the valley below. A valley which Dumani supply convoys needed to pass through in order to supply its forces at the front. It was the largest village of Atrebates, themselves numbering some three or four thousand, depending on who you asked. Perhaps a quarter of them lived here, the rest spread across the valley below.

The jeep passed beneath a U-shaped wooden post marking the entrance- they were now in King Salomane’s personal fief, rather than his domain at large. It was here Herminius caught sight of the first locals in over three hours: the women were far more modestly dressed in these parts than west, where it was considered rude among some folk to wear a shirt (an insult to the gods, it was). Here they wore long robes that covered them from the neck down. The colors were various blue, green and dulled red drabs, seemingly according to personal taste. These were not a garish folk. The womenfolk watched on somberly as the convoy of vehicles passed. A group of children- these were dressed more as other Yehudi children he’d seen in little sackcloth garments, boys and girls alike -ran alongside the vehicles laughing and pleading with the soldiers in the tongue of the Atrebates. Fistfulls of sweets were tossed from the passing vehicles to the children, who viciously descended upon the wrapped candies as children always do.

Next he caught sight of his first Artrebat warrior. It was hard to tell what sort of build he had- his robes did not flow quite as heavily as those of the women, but they were heavy non the less. A skinny arm reaching from within to cradle a worn looking carbine was enough to tell him these folk were not the robust specimen found amount the Aequi or the Trudemanes, back along the river, with their wild braded red hair and tattoos. His head was covered by a thick red cap of felt, and a long jet black beard hung to his chest. The look the man gave Herminius was enough to give him pause. This was a man that had killed before, and would happily gut him right now. His carbine- a Questarian-made battle rifle, whose stock the warrior seems to have decorated with strips of leather and metal studs -very well may have been a trophy.

“Here, sir?”

“No. To his door. It won’t do to have these people see me walking the road like a common petitioner.”

The jeep finally wound around the final circle of homes to the village circle. Herminius nearly stepped toward the hut before he reminded himself- best to keep to the local customs, when it is not unbecoming. No need to insult the locals yet. He stepped first towards the well. There a pair of village women waited for him, eyes abated, and held toward him a bowl of water from the well. Remembering as he’d been instructed, he reached with his right hand, extended the five fingers and drudged up a bit of water- he first flicked some towards his face, and then back into the well. A local cleansing ritual.

He turned without acknowledging the women- another custom he’d been instructed on, and made his way toward the chieftain’s house. This was the only building in the hamlet of two stories and was about twice as wide as the next biggest building. He heard laughter roaring from within, and stepped through to find himself face to face with two figures: the first, a short but plump Artebat in warrior’s garb with a long white beard, was laughing at a joke that the second figure, a hulking man in body armor with a cropped blonde beard and a head of hair braided in the fashion of the river clans, had evidently made. The first man nodded toward Herminius, and the second wheeled around, a broad grin across his lips.

“Herminius, good of you to join us!” he bellowed, clasping forearms with the newcomer.

“Garro. Hope I’ve not kept ‘his majesty’ waiting too long.”

“Oh, it’s no bother, old man’s happy enough to be receiving wealthy foreigners. This is Hasin, the king’s castellan.”

“Sai’im alakim.”

“Lakim a’sai’im.”

The trio continued on with the small talk a brief time, and refreshments were brought out- a fermented honey-wine in small clay bowls that was sweet at the tongue but burned on the way down. Garro and Hasin continued on in Atrebat, a dialect of Yehumeri that Herminius was barely able to keep up with. Garro paused occasionally to illustrate a particular point to his companion, knowing his mastery of the Transsegine Yehudi tongues left some things to be desired.

Finally, a young woman in the local robed garb motioned that they should follow her- the King was ready to see them.

“You see, all that back there- the joking, the drinks, was to soften us up for the negotiations, put us off-guard. It’s how the Atrebates and many of their cousins do business.”

Herminius couldn’t help but smile at that, “nothing we wouldn’t do ourselves.”

The floors of this home were tile- real ceramic tile, rather than the mud stuff, and the windows a bit wider than the other buildings as to let more light in, and rich tapestries hung from the walls. He noted what seemed to be seats carved into the wall beneath the windows- these were, of course, firing steps. It was, for the Atrebates, a luxury fortress, one befitting their king.

They stepped out into the inner courtyard. The hearth was a long thing, a brick-lined trench with a grill across the top, and at the end upon a rug sat an old but fearsome looking figure, legs crossed. He was garbed as the other men, in long robes and a felt cap with ammunition carriers slung across his chest, and had what was definitely a trophy sub machinegun propped up beside a basin behind him. His beard was salt and pepper, but unlike his overweight castellan he was wiry and tough, his eyes boring into the newcomers.

Herminius stared back just as intensely as the castellan made the introductions, and motioned for the Dumani to sit at the opposite side of the hearth, directly facing the king. Forget roads, these people didn’t even have chairs, or tables.

Or, as he found out moments later, utensils. He was not so dandy as to be unable to eat with his hands- he was, after all, a soldier of the Dumani Republic, but that a foreign king would dine in such a manner was a bit surprising. Even the river folk, savage as they were, had forks and knives.

The king spoke loudly, in order that his guests might hear him across the hearth- the seating arrangement encouraged loudness -and Garro translated.

“I understand you beg my protection, Dumani. This thing has a price, for the road is sacred and you cross my lands- lands which are unaccustomed to foreigners from such far away lands.”

“I fear you misunderstand, for I beg nothing,” he replied, allowing Garro to translate. The king furrowed his brow. “Our armies will cross your lands. As we do not wish to inconvenience you, we are prepared to offer just compensation to Your Majesty for the privilege. The Senate and People of Dumanum would name you Friend and heap upon you all those privileges that accompany this, if you would grant us this small boon.”

Garro continued to rapid fire translate. The king’s expression was one of bemusement as he took in the words.

“No. This will not do. I’ve no interest in foreign hordes stampeding across my lands. You may go in peace, for you’ve my hospitality, but know that any other foreigner in our lands will be killed,” he glared at the Dumani. “I cannot allow you through my lands in peace, for when you inevitably leave this place, as you know you will, the Praetanni would punish us. I believe you understand.”
Garro nodded to his left. A pair of soldiers, visibly straining, stepped into the courtyard bearing a wooden chest between them: upon it was stamped the Solar Octed in iron, and SPQD embossed in gold prominently across the lid. Setting it before the king, a combination was entered on a mechanical keypad, and a satisfying clunk signaled the lid’s unlocking.

His eyes went wide when the lid was lifted, and he reached into the chest to produce a large golden coin.

“The Senate had these struck in your honor. It’d be a shame to have to take them back with me.”

Indeed, the likeness of the king was embossed on the front of the coin, circled by the words SOLOMANE REX ATREBATVM, and on its rear the numerals ‘II.’

“That’s two ounces of gold. There’s a hundred pounds worth in that crate.”

The king’s expression fluttered between awed and frustrated.

“You would buy my complacence with this pittance?”

“No. I would buy your complacence for this month with this pittance. You’ll get another pittance next month. And the month after that. And the month after.”

He nodded to the soldiers, who slammed the lid shut.

“Or. We can do it your way. Instead of taking the Senate’s gold, you can fight us. Well, you could try to fight us. Just know this: it won’t be kindly little Farmer Brown and his sepoy taking your valley from you. No, it would be the three thousand Quoborges I have at my beck and call. You know the Quoborges? The mountain men from the south, the ones even the steppe folk couldn’t subdue. Yes, you’re aware of their handiwork. That’s the alternative to you taking our gold.

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Re: What If

Postby Dumanum » Sat Aug 18, 2018 3:51 pm

Day Zero: No Ostian

Speculator. It was an ancient title that conveyed a very deep measure of dread with it among Crataeans- even the Dumani, themselves. Especially the Dumani, themselves. Originally it referred to simple messengers. Eventually those messengers came to be plain clothes spies and scouts for the legions. Eventually those plain clothes spies and scouts for the legions came to be plain clothes murderers and assassins at the command of the Dumani political and military establishment- be it the senate, the emperor, or a petty princeling. More often than not, these murderers and assassins were busy killing said senate, emperor, or petty princeling’s domestic enemies rather than their foreign enemies. Well, at least that’s how some explained the title. More than likely, they’d always been plain clothes murderers and assassins- but the story made it a bit more interesting.

In the Exercitus, the modern-day Speculatores were organized into the Twentieth Legion under the direct command of the Schola Exploratorum, or SE- the military intelligence apparatus. It was Dumanum’s de facto secret service, and it had an army of its very army in the form of these men.

Ironically, it had been the Questarians themselves that had brought Speculatores back into widespread use by the Dumani: following the mutual demilitarization of the Yehud in 1911, Dumanum needed a way to enforce its will over its client tribes. Sending the legions was no longer an option- this was a tremendous problem, for the folk of that harsh country respected strength and strength alone. Allowing it to fall to anarchy was certainly not an option, for to do so would be to invite all kinds of nasty things to spill across the frontier, and allowing for them to unite would bring problems of an entirely different nature.

Longstanding policy had always been to keep the uncivilized tribes beyond the frontier complacent, divided, yet relatively stable and peaceful- this was done through a combination of diplomacy, bribery, and the occasional punitive expedition to remind everyone who was really in charge, when someone stepped out of line. To allow violence to spiral out of control or for a tribal unification both resulted in the same thing: more barbarians trying to cross the frontier, either for raiding or settling purposes.

In more extreme cases, a unified barbarian confederation could pose an existential threat: Bartu Khan’s steppe hordes quite had literally changed the face of Crataea when they tore out of modern-day Gzelkastan in the late thirteenth century, both in terms of culture, population migration patterns, and the fact they killed upwards of a quarter of the continent’s population.

So, naturally, an alternative to sending in the legions was needed.

Tradition had it that it was Ultor that came up with the idea: take the best, fiercest troops, and dress them as if they’re kin to the Yehudis. There are no Dumani soldiers in Yehud, they would say- those well trained soldierly types with Antarterian complexions and Ostian accents that were in King Aela’s household guard? Oh, they may have been born on the Dumani side of the border, but it was hardly the Senate’s concern where free men deigned to go. Mercenary work was a national tradition.

Things naturally evolved over time- through training, through new tactics, techniques, and procedures. These men came to know their charges very well, living among them and acting as if they themselves were of the same stock. There was always the occasional Speculator that went native, but that was another problem as old as the very continent itself. Ultimately, they served as the Senate’s envoys and executioners- though more often than not they were tasked with aiding the Republic’s clients, training allied militias, and grooming the sons of client kings and their retainers for eventual Dumani citizenship, they still did a good deal of violence.

Sometimes it was a matter of going out and killing a friendly king’s enemies that had stepped out of line- other times it was a matter of going out and killing that same previously friendly king after he decided those enemies maybe had a good point and would make for better allies than the Dumani. It was a messy business, and the Speculatores got very good at three things: operating with virtually no external support; blending in as if they were locals themselves; and fighting even dirtier than even the most vicious irregulars.

This would be the second time in less than a decade they fought the Frontier Force. They, along with their client militias, had killed quite a few Freeholder troops when Hood's army crossed the Segyna in 2010. This time, however, it would be in the Frontier Force’s own backyard. Just as they had soldiers that could blend in with Yehudis, Vekhs, Sharfs, Motappans, and all manner of people, the Twentieth Legion had made a serious effort at recruiting troops that could pass for Praetannics, Indians, Malays, and other people of the subcontinent. These were organized into special units to be employed in the event of war with the Commonwealth. It wasn’t difficult to find such men- it is said that the Dumani are a mongrel race, but it would be more accurate to say they are a collection of races united under a single culture- a great advantage, in cases such as this.

This was how Regus Tullius Felix found himself dressed in the uniform of the HM Pilotcy Security Force in the passenger seat of a 5-ton, approaching the main gate of Shamshakar Field. There were a dozen other men with him in the truck, freshly marked with Security Force insignia. Unusually, for supposed members of the Pilotcy Security Force, they had identification papers on them that Questarian authorities would be able to trace back to Syndicalist insurgent groups. Even more unusual for supposed members of the Pilotcy were the cyanide capsules they had secreted among their teeth.

Aside from these small discrepancies, they all more or less looked the part: of northern Antarterian stock, their fair skin and their blond and brown hair would hardly look out of place among Praetannics in any corner of the globe. They could each to a man speak flawless Praetannic in accents matching their assigned cover identities.

Felix, a 30 year-old Tesserarius in the SE, was 30 year-old Sergeant Michael E. Paddington of the HM Pilotcy Security Force, born and raised in Eulalia. Indeed, Felix knew the city personally- he’d spent nearly a month in King Abdullah’s lands as a tourist some years ago. Corporal Paddington hadn’t been back home in years, either, for he’d been disinherited and disowned by his family. At the moment, he was traveling from Station Bengpathat, under orders to reinforce Shamshakar Field in light of warnings from Military Intelligence that Syndicalist insurgent groups may seek to take advantage of Abdul’s recent assassination. All of the men in Felix’s kill team had such cover stories- just detailed enough to satisfy most peoples curiosity, and simple enough for instant and consistent recall. I

The gate guards at Shamshakar had been told shortly in advance to expect reinforcements from Bengpathat sometime past midnight- the SE had made sure the correct radio codes and procedures were on hand to make the deception work. Naturally, nobody had wanted to rouse the base commander at so ungodly an hour- the details of housing and feeding the new arrivals could be managed at lower levels, and the CO could be informed of their arrival in the morning briefing.

The truck bounced along the narrow road, its headlights cutting through the darkness. The thick trees gave the appearance of a long, winding tunnel without end. It had been like this the past several hours as they made their way toward the remote air field, home to No. 36 Squadron HMP “Rempits.” Felix considered his men and himself lucky: the remote nature of this base gave them a fair chance of getting away, when it was all over. There were other, larger groups engaged in similar operations in more densely populated areas of the Nampataland. Those men were on suicide missions.

Eventually, the dark tunnel of trees gave way on one side of the road to a high chain link fence topped by barbed wire: beyond that, an endless black void that the men knew to be their target. Hidden beneath a tarp, the rest of the team couldn’t see this, and so Felix hit them on his handheld radio unit,

“We’re ‘ere gents, look lively,” he spoke in Praetannic rather than Ostian.

At long last, a light in the distance appeared around the bend. The base’s main gate- a ten-foot high swinging set of steel grating- was well illuminated by a pair of streetlights. Beyond that, a concrete canopy held aloft by sturdy steel beams covering a cinderblock guardhouse. Beside the gate, a colorful sign proclaimed “SHAMSHAKAR FIELD: HOME OF THE REMPITS.” As they drew closer, Felix noted a belt-fed machine gun fixed to a window in guardhouse facing the direction of the gate. They really were worried about potential infiltrators, out in this part of the country.

The truck squealed and snorted an exhausted huff as it stopped in front of the gate. A small pedestrian gateway beside the main door swung open, and a pair of bleary eyed guards sauntered out- a freckled lance corporal and shaggy haired private, neither more than eighteen or nineteen -sauntered out towards their vehicle, flashlights in hand.

“Evenin’ sergeant, welcome to Shamshakar Field. IDs if you please,” he said in a cordial, if not friendly, tone that was still somehow all business.

“Evenin’, lance, sorry to keep you lads up waitin’ fer us,” Felix replied in that accent he’d so carefully mastered, complimenting it with a faked weary smile. He took the driver’s ID and handed it along with his own to the guard.

“No bother, sergeant. You gents’ll want to take yer’ first left ‘round past the gate, follow that road about half a kilometer and that’ll bring you to the bunk houses. Number nineteen’s empty, I’m told you’re to be put up there for the night. Someone should be there to fetch you at reveille.”

The private had stepped around the back of the vehicle; he could hear him speaking to the men in the bed.

Felix glanced down at his watch for good measure, “Very good, corporal. We’ll want to get goin’ so we can ‘ave a bit o’ shuteye ‘till then.”

“Right you are, sergeant. Oi, Baggins, you done back there?”

“Just a sec’, gotta’ sort through these…”

“Get on with it, these lads’ve ‘ad a long journey and would like to get some shuteye before reveille.”

“Right, then, off yeh go.”

The lance turned away from the truck and gave a wave toward the guard house, and a moment later the gate began to slide open.

The lance snapped a smart salute, which Felix returned, and the truck lurched forward into the heart of the airfield. Well, that was the hard part. Now came the part they were all very good at. Perhaps the best.

The truck huffed a stop in front of No. 19, a rusty quonset hut in a shadowy corner of the base’s enlisted quarters. Doors clacked open and the rear gate dropped; wordlessly the men shuffled out the back, rifles slung across their chests and seabags slung over the shoulders. Two of them lugged a long pelican case between them.

The driver, Meridius, took off in the direction of a roving patrolman they’d saw walking the perimeter of the enlisted area. They were new arrivals after all- best to check in with firewatch, perhaps find out the location of the sergeant of the watch for the barrack area. You know, in case they needed to talk to him.

“Fucking lights don’t even work,” growled one man.

“We won’t need them. We’re going right to bed, aren’t we lads? Gotta’ catch our beauty rest before reveille!”

That generated some tense chuckles.

“Remove words from fucking mouth. We work now,” growled Felix, finally breaking the speech pattern, though the words were still Praetannic.

Under the illumination of red filtered head lamps, seabags were unbuckled and pushed onto their sides, and men began to withdraw the contents. Several men stacked tightly bound cylindrical packages beside the door while the rest strapped on flak jackets, helmets, and chest rigs. Silencers were threaded onto rifle barrels and fresh batteries loaded in night vision goggles. The stacked packages were cut open, revealing pre-cut blocks of plastique. The long pelican case was unlatched, revealing a series of knobs, switches, and plug interfaces. This was the only piece of Dumani-made kit they’d brought with them: it was Felix’s understanding that they would be sufficient to jam enemy radio, sat and cell phone traffic across the tactical area.

A map was unfurled: a detailed technical layout of the base, with each building and point of interest prominently labeled in Praetannic. This intel was perhaps 3 months old; the last time an SE operative had visited this particular base. The machine gun in the guard house was notably absent, likely a result of it being emplaced between the reconnaissance and present time rather than an oversight on the part of the spy. Who knows what else had changed in the meantime.

The tactical plan was given one last run through: The blocks of plastique were for airframes, fuel tanks, and ordnance. These were secondary targets.

Two man sections would power down the base’s generator and cut the line to the comms antenna. Felix would lead a stack to the officers’ quarters where targets would be executed at close range with suppressed .22 caliber handguns. Perimeter guards would shoot down anyone trying to escape. A second stack would hit the main guard barrack to stifle any resistance before it began.

He didn’t particular enjoy shooting down unarmed men in cold blood, but this was the mission they’d been assigned. As his commanding officer had put it in the initial briefing, “shooting their pilots on the ground will be far less costly than shooting them out of the sky.”

Final checks were completed. The men were ready to go. The door of the quanset hut swung open and the limp body of the watchman was dragged through the threshold, blood trailing behind. He was, perhaps, the first casualty of the Nampata War, though it wouldn’t be until after the war’s conclusion that anyone would have time to figure out what had really happened here.

Red lamps were switched off and night vision goggles switched on. Magazines were inserted, bolts racked, rounds chambered.

“Remember- no Ostian.”

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Re: What If

Postby Questers » Sun Aug 19, 2018 6:59 pm

Still working on day five, so here's an order of battle of the Pillar of Cloud Division when it faces the Dumani I Corps.

Divisional HQ - 3rd (Pillar of Cloud) Division - Jathader-General Grantham Pendam Singh

Attached units:
Armoured cavalry Squadron - 12th/19th Lancers (Lt-Col. A D Pelham): x48 M85A2 Cougar light tank, x21 LMV-M7 Tigercat inc. C3, CSS, and dismount scouts
Helicopter gunship Squadron - Loyal Sikh Air Horse (Lt-Col. V C Chandy): x24 AH5 Singa Rajah, x8 RH2 Sparrow, x6 UH3 Chita
Mechanised infantry Battalion - Baghrena Rifles (Lt-Col. M P Sandy-Bains): x79 M10 Chinkara, inc. C3 and CSS, x8 M137 Tornado

SP artillery Battery - 2 Battery, Khalistan Field Artillery (Lt-Col. C D Jindal): x27 SP 6" M40 Comet, x18 M48 Badak inc C3, CSS, FO
SP artillery Battery - 12/20 Battery, Khalistan Field Artillery (Lt-Col. E Grover): x27 SP 6" M40 Comet, x18 M48 Badak inc C3, CSS, FO
SP artillery Battery - 21 Battery, Khalistan Field Artillery (Lt-Col. G A Mohan): x27 SP 6" M40 Comet, x18 M48 Badak inc C3, CSS, FO
SP artillery Battery - 56 Battery, Khalistan Field Artillery (Lt-Col. F Smith): x18 SP 8" M90 Baracha, x12 M48 Badak inc C3, CSS, FO
SP rocket Battery - 45 Battery, Khalistan Rocket Artillery (Lt-Col. H H Walia): x18 M227 Inferno, x12 M48 Badak inc C3, CSS, FO
STA Troop - 117 "Gallant Fist" Close Patrol Troop (Maj. S C Adams): x18 M32 Linsang

Additionally attached from the Frontier Force:
STA Troop - 55 "Wrath of Heaven" Close Patrol Troop (Maj. FbA Hussein): x18 M32 Linsang
The above directing two batteries of SP 18" M90 Baracha and two batteries of M227 Inferno.

Air Defence
Air Defence Squadron - A Sqn, 3 Troop, Royal Airdefence Regiment (Maj. H A Broker) - x9 M191 Gerhana, x3 SP Radars
Light Anti-air Squadron - P Sqn, Royal Airdefence Regiment (Lt-Col. P P Lichfield) - x27 M360 Chandava, x27 Stinger missiles

Combat engineering Regiment - 50 Armoured Engineer Regiment, FF Engineers (Lt-Col. T R "Teddy" Ballantine) - x48 M48 Badak, x12 M255 Tupai, x6 M175 Kumir
Field engineering Regiment - 29 Field Engineer Regiment, FF Engineers (Lt-Col. S R Kumar) - x12 M3 Amphibious rig, x12 Heavy materials tractors
Field repair Station - 30 Repair Squadron, FF Engineers (Lt-Col. Y A Vandari) - x36 M48 Badak ARV

3rd (Big Three) Sikh Regiment - Colonel The Dukesardar of Ambala (J E Bains)
Heavy cavalry Squadron - Dukesardar of Ambala's Horse (Lt-Col. A Singh): x62 Covenanter M50/51, x38 M7 Tigercat/M48 Badak inc. C3 & CSS, x8 Cougar M85A2
Armoured cavalry Squadron - 9th/14th Lancers (Lt-Col. A G Batar): x48 M85A2 Cougar light tank, x21 LMV-M7 Tigercat inc. C3, CSS, and dismount scouts
Armoured infantry Battalion - 3/5 Sikh Regiment (Lt-Col. J K Lahar): x66 M15 Gajah, x51 M7 Tigercat/M48 Badak inc. C3 & CSS, x8 Cougar M85A2
Mechanised infantry Battalion - 3/6 Sikh Regiment (Lt-Col. G Wilson): x117 M7 Tigercat/M48 Badak inc. C3 & CSS, x8 Cougar M85A2
3rd Regiment Artillery Squadron (Maj. Y Rahal): x9 SP 6" M40 Comet

11th (Temple) Sikh Regiment - Colonel F R Varna
Heavy cavalry Squadron - Dukesardar of Chandigarh's Horse (Lt-Col. U. U. Saharan): x62 Covenanter M50/51, x38 M7 Tigercat/M48 Badak inc. C3 & CSS, x8 Cougar M85A2
Armoured cavalry Squadron - Khalistan Guard Hussars (Lt-Col. M J Mahara): x48 M85A2 Cougar light tank, x21 LMV-M7 Tigercat inc. C3, CSS, and dismount scouts
Armoured infantry Battalion - 11/14 Sikh Regiment (Lt-Col. O J Kangrah): x66 M15 Gajah, x51 M7 Tigercat/M48 Badak inc. C3 & CSS, x8 Cougar M85A2
Armoured infantry Battalion - 11/19 Sikh Regiment (Lt-Col. A C Anwal): x66 M15 Gajah, x51 M7 Tigercat/M48 Badak inc. C3 & CSS, x8 Cougar M85A2
11th Regiment Artillery Squadron (Maj. F A Segrah): x9 SP 6" M40 Comet

20th Dragoons - Colonel A B Bendra
Heavy cavalry Squadron - Dukesardar of Chandigarh's Horse (Lt-Col. W A Walia ): x62 Covenanter M50/51, x38 M7 Tigercat/M48 Badak inc. C3 & CSS, x8 Cougar M85A2
Heavy cavalry Squadron - Majhagarh Carabineers (Lt-Col. S S Goratah): x62 Covenanter M50/51, x38 M7 Tigercat/M48 Badak inc. C3 & CSS, x8 Cougar M85A2
Armoured cavalry Squadron - 11th/15th Lancers (Lt-Col. J P Bat): x66 M15 Gajah, x51 M7 Tigercat/M48 Badak inc. C3 & CSS, x8 Cougar M85A2
Armoured infantry Battalion - Tar Taran Rifles (Lt-Col. E F Chakora): x66 M15 Gajah, x51 M7 Tigercat/M48 Badak inc. C3 & CSS, x8 Cougar M85A2
11th Regiment Artillery Squadron (Maj. L I Dammar): x9 SP 6" M40 Comet

Misc Troops
Signals Squadron - 3 Signals Squadron: x48 M48 Badak Signals
Provost Troop - J Troop, Sikh Mounted Rifles: x16 M47 Badak
Medical Squadron - 3rd Division Field Hospital
Transport Squadron - 21 Transport Squadron: x72 M9 10-ton trucks
Transport Squadron - 205 Transport Squadron: x72 M9 10-ton trucks
Transport Squadron - 297 Transport Squadron: x72 M9 10-ton trucks
Continent of Dreams - Official Questers Canon Compendium

[Tue 22:53:29] <colo> holy shit you are the fucking worst guy

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Re: What If

Postby Questers » Mon Aug 20, 2018 9:28 am

Day 5 - With The Wolf of Ambala

Someone had tried to build a mall here, once. Poorly laid linoleum coming up at the sides. Broken escalators. Shop lots never rented out. A half built fountain. What had happened here? When did the men who dreamed this mall give up, when did they realise that nothing like this grows in the Yehud? Jaishwar stared at a naked mannequin.

"You should put some clothes on," he said, and laughed. There was nearly an echo.

From somewhere far away, Jaishwar could smell something. He walked toward it. There was nothing here. Just another thing that had died in the eastern side of the Segina. He came to a huge glass window, nearly thirty foot across and twenty tall. The smell was coming from the parking lot below.

A company of infantry had made the front of the mall their home. They were resting, and cooking curry, but they were ready to move out too; the vehicles weren't even lagered properly. This company would not be staying long. Jaishwar sniffed. It was an odd smelling curry.

And further out, on the two narrow roads that met in a circle around the mall, were a string of Comitatus personnel carriers, covered in little scorch marks. A tractor was busy pushing one of the vehicles off the road. It teetered for a moment and then finally fell, rolling into the storm drain next to the road. Jaishwar stood and watched a little longer, while a Troop of tanks rolled down the now-cleared road, each commander unbuttoned, flags waving from the long whip antennaes. Some of the infantry in the courtyard below waved. Jaishwar saw they were going the wrong way. Odd.

Then the smell hit Jaishwar. Just off the side of the courtyard, a pile of bodies had been left to the flies. The smell of the curry had been joined by the smell of burned, rotting flesh. Jaishwar turned his nose up. He wondered how the jawans coped with it. Well, he guessed, jawans can cope with anything.

When Jaishwar went down, one of the men handed him a bowl of curry, and he stood behind a chain link fence, staring at the pile of corpses. His brother officers tried to wave him over, but he stood firm, pretending not to see them. An aide approached and said: "Colonel, Sir, headquarters has a report. We captured forty of the enemy, mostly wounded. They're being sent to the rear now. Captain Charran has a dushman's pistol for you."

"Fine," Jaishwar said, not taking his eyes off the pile. A half tomato squashed in his mouth and a pip dripped from his bottom lip.

"Pickets caught two Yehudis prowling with radio equipment. Spies, we guess."

"Shoot them," Jaishwar said.

"Sir. Additionally, new orders. You are to hold this position for twelve hours then withdraw to phase line charlie."

"What? We're staying here?"


Jaishwar looked over at the road now. There were no more tanks, but there was some noise beyond; there was rumbling, and flashes, and battle. "Fine." He turned away from the corpses. "We had better look to our positions."

Before Jaishwar could say anything else, a platoon of sapper tanks turned into the main courtyard. They were ugly things, Jaishwar thought; their giant dozer blades and cranes and digging tools made them look more like civilians than sleek machines of war. But, he reconsidered, if the dushman was coming to get them, they would be more useful than they looked.


The Colonel coughed. "We have now identified the lead enemy units as being from the Ferrata Division. It looks like we caught them on the nose of their advance. We have to thank our Hussars for putting up a screen here. The enemy did not expect a blow in this direction."

The Queen's Own Hussars Major in the corner nodded. There was applause, but he waved it down with his left hand; his right sat useless in a sling.

"Our attack was a total success. On the far right of our flank, the Majhagarh Carabineers caught an enemy tank squadron by surprise, pinned them against the road with their support traffic jammed up, and picked them apart. They were not expecting us at all. Across the front the dushman's reeling. However: we have also identified the unit to our left as being from the Augusta armoured division. This unit has briefly paused, likely because it does not want to make a frontal attack on our dug in infantry. We now have a choice; pursue the Ferrata division and attempt to close it against the coast, or re-direct our heavy units southwards."

The Jathedar-General was sitting on an office chair. There was still hay on the floor of the barn. Where the office chair had been found, nobody knew, but the collected officers, all sitting on the floor, looked over to their leader. "The choice is obvious. We have to regroup. Our infantry should hold their positions in order to secure this flank, and our tank units must fight a mobile defence. We have the river Sange at our back. If the enemy attempts to cross it, a counter-attack will slow his movement eastwards. That is our only job."

"The Division will be very spread out, Sir. Khataranak ho sakata hai Sir."

"A cloud must disperse," the Jathedar-General said, and then began to laugh, and everyone else began to laugh too. The Colonel even smiled. The presence of this man would be enough, he thought. His personality was worth a whole Corps. "Seriously. We have to delay the enemy three to four days in this position. We can't move allow his I Corps to progress any further while the Frontier Force regroups. So that's my decision. We'll fight a mobile defence, anchored by dug in infantry on our right flank and the Sange on our left. The threat of a counter-stroke by our cavalry will delay any crossing action across the Sange."

The group of men broke up, and the Colonel who had given the briefing stepped outside the barn into a field of vehicles. A school of Captains followed him, then turned right to dispense their leader's orders. The staff work would take some hours, but...

The Colonel changed his mind. He turned back and followed them, and wrote out a brief summary of the Jathedar's orders on paper and had them copied ten times. He found motorcycle runners and had them sent out to the major fighting units. At least they would know the basic plan. If the course of the war so far had taught the Colonel anything, it was that the dushman was easily capable of changing the very flow of events.

It would be typical of him to make some timely move, such as bringing the radio nets down again and launching a counterattack while the Division's units were dispersed and without orders. The Colonel watched the motorcycles fly off on the dirt paths, and then decided to get something to eat. He took a bowl of curry from the field mess and sat on a bench of cartridge boxes. The headquarters cook was good. The Colonel knew they had slaughtered a goat just this morning, and the meat was fresh, and had a great aroma. A savoury bite turned into a chomp which turned into a greedy race against time to finish the meal. He found he had sent it all down in a few minutes, but he was still content.

His second in command arrived. "Sir, the satellite phones are up. Would you like to talk to your family?"

"I'm just digesting here. You can go first. Go on, son."

"Thank you Sir."

The Colonel leaned back and lit a cigarette. Who would he speak to first? His son, he thought. Not his wife. Well, perhaps Vandy would not be there. So he would have to talk to his wife. Then it would be better to be curt. Although – he might not survive tomorrow. So he had better say something good, something tender.

There was a very funny noise. The Colonel realised what it was and was about to jump up, but it was too late . He was dead, of course, but the survivors got up quickly and battled to put out the fires and look for survivors. They did not find the Colonel, but they found the Jathedar – or, what was left of him.


The Dukesardar winced. "Stay still please Sir. This wound is not going to dress itself."

He tried to close his eyes, but even then he could still feel the surgeon's hand over his face. "There are more wounded. Go to them first."

"No Sir. The Regiment can fight without its Captains but it can't fight without its Commander. So holy bloody still. Please."

"I can't see anything with your hand over my face." The surgeon didn't say anything back, but the Dukesardar could sense someone coming into the personnel carrier. "Make your report," he said, still unable to see. He heard the man jump nearly. The Dukesardar can see with his eyes closed. Let him tell that to the jawans.

"Sir. We still can't raise Canopus on the radio. We can get the other Regiments. They can't get Canopus either. Could be the Divisional Headquarters was hit Sir. Like us. But worse."

"I don't need your gloomy speculation at this moment, Lieutenant," the Dukesardar said, eyes still closed. "Tell me the facts man."

"Your Squadron is engaged with the dushman Sir. We're only getting sporadic contact with them, Sir, but we've got spotters up there Sir. They say there's more enemy tanks than you can count. But we threw their first attack back, and yet, they're coming again Sir. There's only so fast the artillery can fire."

The Dukesardar clenched his fist. He wanted to talk to Ambit Singh directly. He must be alive, if the Squadron was still fighting like that. Or...

Or Singh was dead. And the Jathedar was dead also. And only then the Dukesardar thought about his two sons in the Regiment. War was a family business, sure, but where was his family now? He could feel the two other men in the carrier, but couldn't see them. Eyes shut, all he could see was dark, and the red strobes from the light in the carrier. And outside he could hear nothing but the drum of staff work, unable to make out words from sentences, unable to make out meanings from noise.

"Get off me," he said, standing up. The surgeon began to swear. "There's no time for this. It's not a serious wound anyway. Thank you, but go and see the others now." The Dukesardar stepped out of the carrier, eyes still shut, and then opened them.

The light blinded him. It was mid afternoon and there were no signs of the sun slowing. The battle would go on through on into night, he knew. Looking around, he realised all the eyes were on him, and yet – somehow, he did not know any of the people. The bomblet attack on the headquarters that had nearly killed him and nearly made his Regiment blind had also killed a lot of the staff, and those injured he could not recognise.

"Lieutenant," he barked, “Get me a scout car. And a spotter team. I'm going up there myself.”


Everyone, including the subaltern, was still looking at him. The work had stopped, and the camp was quiet.

"Back to work!" the Dukesardar screamed. He realised then they had failed to kill him, and he felt alive, and powerful, and indestructible; and not only had they failed to kill him, they had failed to suppress him. I live, he thought.

In his khaki greens, more torn than not, blood splattered over his face and neck and open chest, boots coated in mud, he looked more like beast than man. But this was war, and the only thing that mattered now was to kill the dushman. By the time he'd left, the staff had already given him a new name, and that new name had already spread through the regiment, and then to the division, and then to the force, and then to the world - and as the battle for Khost raged, every virile man in the western Commonwealth wished he was with the men who were with the Wolf of Ambala.
Continent of Dreams - Official Questers Canon Compendium

[Tue 22:53:29] <colo> holy shit you are the fucking worst guy

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Re: What If

Postby Questers » Mon Aug 20, 2018 2:31 pm

Day Six: The Honour of the Regiment

The wind on his face. The rings around his eyes from the binoculars. The sticky prickles, on his service shirt, that feeling that insects were there when you knew they weren't, especially on his back; the feeling that nothing could stop you.

The Risaldar-major had been in four wars. He'd been in the Shangani when he was seventeen years old. He'd survived that, and survived Hood's raid, and the mutiny, and this was his fourth. It was as if everything in his life had been building up to that moment, every little knot of wisdom gained designed by some higher power for this very purpose.

Nobody else in the Squadron was around from the old days. Most had died in the Mutiny or retired. A few had moved elsewhere. Even though the faces around him were always fresh (especially to a soldier of that age), the Risaldar-major felt like the Squadron was his. He got along with the Colonel, but even the Colonel was a newcomer. And the Risaldar-major was higher than Colonel, even, although neither would admit it. The younger sowars spoke of the Risaldar-major in legendary terms, as if he was a character from the Sikh epics.

The field ahead was empty. Further along, a pair of burned out light tanks stood as they had died, guns facing forwards, and even further along than that a platoon of dismounted scouts stood up from their little foxholes and waved the tanks forward.

There was a flash of cannon fire further ahead. So the scouts were more forwards. Only moments now.

Somehow, the old junior-commissioned officer had never become a proper officer, never a lieutenant or a captain or even, as his age would befit, a major. Must be his attitude, he had reflected. His wife was constantly bugging him for the promotion. The money, she said, think about the money.

But now, at the leading edge of a cavalry charge, the Risaldar-major did not think of that. He raised his night vision binoculars and the land ahead flooded with electrical green. He barked into the microphone. "All units, prepare for contact. Button down."

He watched as the formation's commanders began to close up their hatches. But he would stay up. He had to get a real view of what was going on. The scouts up ahead came on the net.

"We're in it thick. Got the enemy in the flank, but they knew we were coming. Where are you?"

"Here," said the Risaldar-major, and held on for dear life as his tank cannon roared. He heard the gunner yell on the tank radio.

"Splash one bandit."

The enemy tanks were getting closer, but they were throwing smoke up now, very thick clouds of it. He decided. This must be a proper charge. They must get up close and break the enemy and keep the advantage of surprise. It did not take long; they'd caught the dushman off-guard, and the battle was over incredibly quickly. One tank to his right had killed one of the dushman at a hundred yards and then taken two shells and promptly exploded. The shrapnel had cut all down the Risaldar-major's arm, but somehow, he was alive.

It was hard to control the potent mix of adrenaline, experience, training, and purpose. Now is the time to push. Now is the time.

The Troop bounded over drain ditches and forwards. There was their prey, a lager of vehicles. They began to pull away, but there wasn't anywhere to go; surrounded by a treeline, most of the personnel carriers and trucks could not retreat.

The Risaldar-major caught a glance at one of the dushman's tracked carriers before it blew up. Something was funny about the marking on the side. He looked over at another through his binoculars. A cross. In the night vision – yes, a red cross. "Hold fire!" he bellowed down the microphone, but no effect. "Hold your damn fire!"

He was shaking; somehow, he found, he was out of breathe. The red mist fell away as quickly as it had risen. Then he began to laugh; those who had survived the attack would probably remember this moment for the rest of their lives, as the Troop of tanks backed up and turned around. The Risaldar-major had returned to normal now.

If this was a medical station, the fuel and munitions, or at least a repair park, would be nearby. He had better find them before the dushman found him.


The Dukesardar tried to open his eyes, but it hurt like hell. He tried again. It wasn't just the bad sleep; the surgeon had been right. Maybe the lid had got infected. He thought he saw a goat.

It was a goat. It came up right to him, but he didn't have the strength to touch it. The Regiment, said the goat. The Honour of the Regiment. He closed his eyes and opened them again, and the goat was gone. Then he closed his eyes.

Someone was shaking him. "Sir, Sir, Sir."

Was the goat talking to him?

"Sir, you have to wake up."

"Where the hell is the goat?"


"Nothing. What is it?"

"The 20th Dragoons have gone on the attack. The dushman's crossed the Sange and they're fighting it out at the crossings. They're asking for your help."

"What about Division?"

"Sir. There is no more Division. The Headquarters was wiped out. Marshal Smyth was on the line. He said if you can get your Regiment in to support the Dragoons, they'll throw the kitchen sink at the crossing points. Artillery and air, or whatever they can afford. They say this could be it Sir."

"If there's no more Division, and we go south, we'll..." The Dukesardar hauled himself up. "Get me some coffee."

The aide went out. This was it. There was no choice. If they did not attack, the Dragoons would be destroyed, and the enemy could just go around them. If they did attack, the Regiment would surely be destroyed.

But it would have done its job. The aide came back with coffee, and the Dukesardar stood up. "Tell the staff to get the Regiment ready to move. As soon as possible. Forward elements up first. And put me in touch with Bendra, if he's still alive. Tell him we're coming and see if he can't push some more of the crossing points. Who are we facing?"

"There's the Augusta Division, but there's likely going to be Osctica Victrix too. They might divert north to hit us if we're successful."

"Good. Let's go, then."

The Dukesardar stepped outside into the night. It would be morning soon. With morning would come the battle, and perhaps the end. On the far edge of the camp, a young orderly chased a goat. So the goat was real. Did it really speak to him? What did it say again, the Honour of the Regiment?

He watched the goat and sipped his coffee. The orderly grabbed it by the horns, but having walked over to the mess, was told there was no time to slaughter it. The Dukesardar watched him decide what to do, and in the end, he let the goat go. It came over to the Dukesardar and stared at him. The Dukesardar touched it. "Perhaps you are right," he said.

Ambit Singh chose to focus on the river rather than the lines of dead vehicles, some still burning, which littered both banks. The smoke was still acrid, and the wind was wafting it right over his Squadron. Those who could button up did, but Ambit Singh didn't mind the smoke too badly. Neither did the Daffadar in the little scout car that was coming up the single lane road. He stopped in front of Singh's tank.

"Sir, dushman up ahead. There's no way around. They moved quick Sir. Looks like they sealed us off from the Dragoons."

"Is there fighting?"

"A little. But I guess both sides are resting a bit. There were some chaps from the Dragoons on our side. They said it will be over soon enough. Their Regiment is broken up at three to four points. They sunk the enemy's pontoons and destroyed two fixed crossings, but they're running low on ammunition."

"I see." Singh frowned. "Dismissed Daffadar."

So they were cut off to the front and the rear. That meant the Division – what was left of it – was in more than three parts, separated by enemy infantry and cavalry, broken up over about eighty miles. It would be no problem to finish them the next day, in small groups, with their backs to the river.

Out there, somewhere, there were three enemy legions. At least four hundred tanks. But the enemy had paused, it looked like, unsure of what to do now. Singh knew that every hour the dushman wasn't moving into the Nampata was a victory, but it felt like a pyrric one at best. The Pillar of Cloud had been dismembered over three days of hard fighting. Now there was nothing to do but fight it out to the last. He ordered the pickets put out and the tanks readied for battle again.

He still had half his Squadron. That was enough to put the fear of God into the dushman, at least until they ran out of shells.

He looked out over the river again, light smoke pooling in craters but coming up now, rising to meet the clouds. Would the relief come, in the end, to make another little miracle? There was supposed to be air support, but Singh hadn't seen any. No, he knew, the Frontier Force was moving further away, not closer. Surely Smyth would not let them take the initiative so easily. He must have a plan.

But his plan does not necessarily include me, Singh thought, and sniggered. Men thought they were so important, but there was always a bigger fish.

While Singh was eating, the Dukesardar appeared. They embraced, but there was little energy between them. Both men were spent.

The Dukesardar said: "If you're still here by midnight, you must try to break out. All units are going to try to break out north and regroup at that time. But we have to hold the enemy until then. They're likely going to attack very soon."

"I'll see you on the other side," Singh said.

"Yes. I'll see you too."

Then the Dukesardar left. Singh decided to put his affairs in order. The tanks were laid out in good positions, whatever anti-tank and anti-air missiles laid out where needed, and the little infantry he had dug in and ready for the fight. He had one spotter team left. "You guys are my golden boys," he said. "If we're going to win this thing, we need you at your sharpest."

"Sir," the spotter lieutenant said, hands open, "We've only got a couple fire missions of shells left. Then we're done."

"Then you had better use them wisely."
Continent of Dreams - Official Questers Canon Compendium

[Tue 22:53:29] <colo> holy shit you are the fucking worst guy

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