Back | Next

Chapter Thirteen

Mike pulled the Expedition to a stop as he heard the sound of a chainsaw going full blast.

The spring thaw had passed and planting was well underway, with all seven tractors out on the fields breaking ground. The heavy tractor was drawing a single system that plowed, harrowed and planted while the other tractors were simply plowing. After plowing they would change to harrowing and planting devices.

Normally there would have been at least ten plows going at this time with more teams harrowing and planting behind them. The tractors had freed up a good bit of manpower but so had other devices. As Mike made his way through the woods to the sound of the chainsaw, which was in an area he thought they weren't clearing, he saw one.

The chainsaw turned out to be attached to a wooden device the Keldara had knocked together under the direction of Prael, the "other" engineer. They had the chainsaw attached vertically to a solid platform and were using it as a band saw to slice raw timber into planks. Most Keldara construction that used wood had been heavy timbers made by splitting and adzing logs. Using the field-expedient sawmill they could get dozens of planks where they had only gotten one thick timber before. And making that heavy timber would have taken a Keldara most of the day. As he watched, two of them used a swinging crane to lift a massive log into the sawmill and started cutting it up. In a few minutes', admittedly hard, work they had a thick timber member and a litter of planks. They stopped at that point, setting the thick member on a pile of similar ones, about eight by eights, and getting another large section of oak log.

"Going good, huh?" Prael asked.

Mike had heard him sneaking up even over the sound of the chainsaw and shrugged.

"What, exactly, do we need all this lumber for?" Mike replied.

"Every time we take a look around there's another project," Prael said, pouting slightly at not having surprised the Kildar. The word had apparently gotten around that he was a sneak specialist and the various trainers had been trying to surprise him on a daily basis. It never worked, but they kept trying. "The planks are mostly for forms for the dam, but I'm also going to use them to build a couple of wooden bridges over the Keldara River so they don't have to keep using the fords. Then there's repairs to the buildings, forms for bunkers, all sorts of things. The only thing we need more than lumber is concrete."

"How's that coming along?" Mike asked, walking back through the woods to his Expedition.

"We've got material coming out of our ears," Prael said. "The gravel pit is working well. We've been using the horses for sand mining on the river so we've got plenty of that. And there was a big delivery the other day of cement. The big bottleneck is mixing; we've got two small gas-powered mixers and after that we're down to doing it by hand. But we're not going to be really slowed by it for another week; that's when Meller thinks he'll be done working out the foundations of the dam."

"Get a concrete truck?" Mike asked. "Rent one or get a contractor if we can find one?"

"Might be a good idea," Prael admitted. "It'll make building the bunkers easier, too."

"I'll look into it," Mike said, getting back in the SUV. "Have fun. And, by the way, if you try to miss every little leaf you're never going to learn."

He decided to skip the dam workings for the time being, heading over to the range area. It was at the north end of the valley, right up against the range of tree covered mountains at that end, and was coming along nicely. There was a pistol and sub-gun range installed already, with another for pop-ups underway to the side. The last range, the farthest to the east, was for long-range rifle. That one used heavy metal targets and had been laid out but wasn't being worked on yet.

He followed the graveled road up to the end of the range under construction and waved at Praz as he arrived. The rifle instructor waved back, then walked over to the Expedition after a word to the Keldara doing the pop-up installation.

"How long?" Mike asked.

"Another week for the basic installation," Praz said. "A couple of days for the long-distance range."

"Need more bodies?" Mike asked. "Meller won't need half his bodies in a couple of days when they get finished on the foundations."

"I'm good," the rifleman admitted. "More people would just require more supervision. If I get some people I'd like Killjoy and he's working on bunkers."

"The basic bunker installation is going to be done pretty soon," Mike said, frowning. "If you get slowed down, talk to the colonel and he'll shift some people your way." Mike looked around and smiled. "A decent range will be nice for a change."

"Well, this one will be pretty decent," Praz admitted.

"Onward and upward," Mike said, waving back to the valley. "Gotta go check on the dam."

He made his way back down to the south, passing one of the plowers on the way and returning a wave, until he reached the small valley chosen for the hydro dam.

The trees and brush had been cleared out from the base of the defile and most of the dirt dug away to reveal bedrock. On both edges of the defile a narrow trail had been graded and blasted up the hill to positions over where the dam was going to go in. As he pulled up, the fifty or so Keldara who had been doing pick and shovel work were making their way into the open and getting behind the backhoe that, so far, had been their only major equipment.

"Hold up here, Kildar," one of the Keldara said, walking over to the Expedition as Mike pulled up. "Sergeant Meller is about to set off a charge."

"Works," Mike said, shutting down the SUV and getting out. "How big, you know?"

"Small," the Keldara said. "Getting rid of a cell of rock. A big stone, really. It's in the way for getting to the rock on the south side. Once it's out of the way we can finish leveling the foundation. He thinks it will take more than one blast, though."

"Hey, Kildar!" Meller said, coming around the edge of the defile. Where the trees and scrub had been was an area of rock that was mostly flat until it hit the slope. The small stream now ran down a narrow rock channel. "Hang on a second," he yelled again, holding up an electronic detonation device. "FIRE IN THE HOLE!"

There was a sharp crack and a blast of dust in the defile and Meller looked up and around.

"The sky didn't fall!" he caroled, walking back into the valley before the dust had even settled.

"Got to go," the Keldara said, hurrying in that direction.

Two of the farm trucks roared to life pulling forward, Keldara swarming on the back for the short ride, with the backhoe following more slowly.

Mike pulled forward as well, driving the Expedition actually into the stream to avoid the line of Keldara and bumping up the streambed until he could see the center of the workings. The dirt had been dug out and rocks blown down to create a fairly broad level area. He could see the final obstacle they were working on, an irregularly shaped boulder about the size of the Expedition, which had been cracked on one side and nudged out from the wall of the valley. The remaining mass was about the size of the Expedition; the portion that had been blasted off was about the size of a Volkswagen and now lay strewn around the workings.

"Hey, Kildar," Meller yelled as Mike pulled up. The Keldara had already set to work lifting smaller rocks into the back of the trucks as the backhoe moved into position to lift the heavier material.

"How's it going?" Mike asked, getting out of the Expedition.

"Pretty good," Meller admitted. "There's no problem with the position and the Keldara are the hardest workers I've ever met. Once we get this rock out of the way and level out the position we'll start making forms. After that we'll pour the foundations and the main weir. It'll take about two weeks for that to set enough to start work on the rest."

"What are you going to need for that?" Mike asked.

"Just a lot of dirt at first," Meller said. "I can move that with wagons and stuff, but it would be better to get a couple of dump trucks and the steam shovel. I'm going to need to dig dirt out from the channel to bring the water back to the main stream and anywhere else I can find it that won't get in the way of planting. I'll run the trucks or whatever up there," he said, pointing to the roads that had been blasted up the hill, "then dump it in position. It'll have to be tamped down, I'd like to get a compressor for that, and we'll lay it down in layers until the dam is built up to the proper level. Then we'll front it with clay from over by the ranges."

"Is it . . . what you said about permeable, enough?" Mike asked.

"Permeability," Meller said, nodding. "It's impermeable enough. I did a field expedient test. I probably should be doing more soil tests, but this stuff is good material from what I've seen; not too much organics to it but it will compress really well. I've built dams this large before in Afghanistan and Iraq and this one should be fine. I'm really overbuilding it, but better overbuild than underbuild."

"What about seepage?" Mike asked.

"That's why we're preparing the foundations," Meller said, grinning. "If you want to bring in an engineer with a degree and everything to check it out, I won't mind."

"You got plans?" Mike asked. "I can just find a firm and send those over to see what they think."

"Hand drawn," Meller said. "You don't have AutoCAD on the computers at the caravanserai."

"Order a copy," Mike said. "Do up the plans and I'll get them vetted. Or you can send them to a firm if you know one. But, yeah, I'd like a guy with a degree in this stuff to say it will work. Do that before you start pouring."

"Will do," Meller said, frowning. "It'll take me a few days, though, not counting the time to get the program. There are some smaller packages that I can download that will do for showing it to an engineer. But I'll have to work on that by itself."

"What you're doing here any of the trainers with blast experience can do," Mike said, shrugging. "Hell, I can take over if you want. It's just blowing this rock out of the way and leveling after it's gone, right?"

"Yeah," Meller said, shrugging. "You want to take over?"

"I haven't had a chance to blow anything up in years," Mike replied, grinning. "Well, okay, a year and a half."

"Don't use too much," Meller said, carefully. "You don't want a crater."

"I won't," Mike said. "Take one of the Keldara with you who can drive and head back to the caravanserai. I'll get this thing out of the way while you work on the plans. Suits?"

"Suits," Meller replied.

"Who's your straw boss?" Mike asked watching the Keldara work. There didn't appear to be anyone supervising but the Keldara were expert at moving rock. They even did it in a reasonably safe manner, but he mentally added steel-toed boots to the list of materials these people needed. Every time he turned around there was one more "vital" item someone required. He'd taken a look at the spreadsheets last night and capital costs on the militia and infrastructure equipment had gone over four million dollars. Ammunition and pay for the trainers was going to easily go over another million. Fuel, food, the very low pay the Keldara were getting for all these projects, the whole damned thing was costing like crazy. And he didn't see any way to recoup it.

"Sawn," Meller said, pointing at the Keldara. He had the brown hair and short, broad look of Father Makanee, who it turned out was actually his uncle. He was pitching in just like the rest, tossing boulders nearly the size of his barrel chest into the back of the truck.

"Isn't that rock granite?" Mike asked.

"Yeah," Meller answered. "And the trucks will take it over to the gravel pit."

The backhoe dumped its load into the back of one of the trucks and then the majority of the Keldara backed up as it scraped the ground, clearing the last of the rubble. There was a small mound at the base of the hill that a few of the Keldara set to work on with shovels as one of the trucks drove away with its load and the backhoe began working its way out of the defile.

"It's time to set the next load," Meller pointed out. "I'll show you where the demo shack is."

A small, reinforced shack had been set up down on the flats and Meller opened it with a key to reveal a reel of detcord, a stack of Semtek cases, a box of detonators, wire and receiver modules.

"Semtek's not the best material for this sort of work," Meller said. "And I really should be drilling the rock. But that would have to be done by hand so I'm just putting in charges and tamping them with sandbags."

"I can work with that," Mike said. "But have you considered shaped charges?"

"I could make a couple," Meller admitted. "But . . ."

"I was thinking of the RPGs," Mike pointed out. "They'll dig a small diameter hole in the rock if you use the HEAT rounds."

"Now that's thinking outside the box," Meller pointed out.

"When you get to the house get an RPG and send it back with the Keldara along with a few rounds," Mike said. "About twelve. I'll have to experiment some." He thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. "Take Sawn and have him stop and find Genadi on the way back. There's a pump around somewhere and we'll use it to cool the holes."

"This is getting complicated," Meller pointed out. "Why not just tamp?"

"I'm bored," Mike admitted.

* * *

"Don't set the pump up, yet," Mike said as he crossed the small stream, carrying the RPG and three rounds. "And everybody back up and put your fingers in your ears; this is going to be noisy."

He set the rocket-propelled grenade launcher across his knee and loaded in one of the bulbous rounds, rotating it to lock the head in. Then he inserted earplugs and lifted the weapon to his shoulder, flipping up the sight. The distance was about fifty meters, just over arming distance, but that should work. He checked his backblast area, to make sure none of the Keldara had wandered behind him, and flipped the weapon off safe.

The rocket flew straight and true to impact on the side of the rock,impacting with a large explosion and one hell of a bang. But when the smoke had cleared there didn't appear to be any damage to the rock.

"Kildar," Sawn called, smiling, "we will be here a very long time making gravel that way."

"Look again," Mike said, leaving the RPG and rounds in place and crossing back over to the rock. The Keldara gathered around in a crowd and shook their heads at the small hole drilled in the rock.

"I'm going to need a small, straight, piece of metal or wood," Mike said, frowning. "I need to see how deep that is. And we'll need some clay. Somebody head down by the ranges and dig some up. Just a few bucketsful will do."

Sawn detailed one group to go get the clay while a few of the younger men went to the pile of debris from clearing to look for a long, straight piece of wood that would fit. Mike, in the meantime, crossed back over the stream and continued to shoot into the rock, keeping low on it now and circling around to the east side. Each of the impacts caused a small diameter hole and he stopped when he had six.

By that time a suitable piece of wood had been found and he explored the first hole with it, noting that it was still extremely hot. The hole turned out to be only a meter and a half or so deep.

"Tum tee tum," Mike hummed as the truck got back from the ranges with the clay. He wandered back to the demo shack and loaded up with gear, then headed over to the diggings.

"Set up the pump," he told Sawn. "Fill each of the holes with water. If they flood out, that's fine. But keep filling them 'til they cool down."

"Yes, Kildar," Sawn said, obviously confused.

Mike pulled out three blocks of Semtek and broke them up, using the hood of the truck to roll out narrow cylinders. He then hooked up detonators to sections of detcord and headed over to the diggings.

He'd considered two ways to blow the rock and settled on the more reliable, using the detcord to slide the narrow cylinders of explosive to the bottom of the wet holes. Then he used the stick to pack clay down on top. It took him about an hour to fill all the holes. What he was left with was six holes with detcord sticking out of clay plugs. He then "daisy-chained" the detcord ends together and led a string of detcord out from the rock.

"Okay," he said, waving everyone back. "It's about ready to go. I'd suggest you back up a bit more than usual; I'm not as precise as Meller."

When everyone was back around the scrap of hill, he hooked a detonator and module up to the detcord daisy-chain and walked down onto the flats himself.

"Let's see what we get," he said, looking at Sawn and grinning as he hit the firing button.

The sound was much more muted than Meller's detonation and there was less dust. But when they walked back around the hill he saw that the rock had been shattered along one side deep into its mass and was now sitting on a narrow base. More rock had been thrown outward, ready to be picked up, but Mike held up his hand as the Keldara moved forward.

"Let's break it up some more, first," Mike said. "Sawn, time to learn how to use an RPG. Everybody on the other side of the stream."

This time he walked the Keldara through the loading and firing sequence, showing him how to check that he had enough backblast area and explaining why it had to be clear both of people and obstructions. He had the leader fire two rounds, then picked out another Keldara at random to fire the next couple until he'd expended all his remaining six rounds. One had missed so he only had five holes to fill this time, scattered over the upper mass of the rock. One reason that he'd fired rather than having the Keldara start clearing was that he was unsure the rock was stable enough, but it had taken five hits from an RPG and hadn't fallen over so that was good enough.

By the time he'd completed the second demolition it was late afternoon and he called a halt.

"Go ahead and start heading home," he told Sawn. "I'll break up a couple of these smaller rocks, then head home myself. I'll see you tomorrow and we'll break up the last bit and clear the area."

"Yes, Kildar," Sawn said, nodding. "Weapons can be used for more than killing, apparently."

"A weapon is a system for applying force," Mike said. "Force like that can only be used for destruction, but sometimes you can use it for stuff like this, yes."

Mike was placing a quarter pound of Semtek under a rock the size of a recliner when he heard light footsteps coming up the path.

"You were supposed to go home," Mike called.

"You have not had dinner, Kildar," Katrina said.

"And it's nearly dark," Mike pointed out, straightening up and turning around. The girl had a basket that probably held food and a bucket with three beer bottles in it. "You're going to get yourself in trouble coming out into the dark with a man you're not married to."

"I was sent out," Katrina admitted. "But I asked when the men came back. You should eat."

"I was going to when I got back to the house," Mike pointed out. "That's why I have a cook."

"I called Mother Griffina," Katrina said, opening up the box and laying out a colored cloth, then pulling out food. "You have been working all day and you did not eat lunch. You will eat."

"I'm going to wash my hands first," Mike said, uncomfortably. The girl was about fourteen if she was a day. Not to mention bloody gorgeous. And in her society, being alone with a man was tantamount to admitting you weren't a virgin. And if you weren't a virgin, you could never get married. He couldn't imagine Father Devlich simply letting her come out here to have dinner, even if it was with the Kildar. It was literally unimaginable. On the other hand, there was no way she could have prepared a supper like this without permission; the Keldara were far too careful of their food use.

By the time he got back to the little picnic, Katrina had laid out a plate of cold chicken and potatoes with a small mess of spring greens. A bottle of beer was open and sitting next to it.

"And what are you going to eat?" Mike asked.

"I'll eat when I get home," Katrina said, archly.

"Don't think so," Mike said, sliding the plate between them. "Eat. So tell me how you really managed to convince them that you should come out here."

"I simply pointed out that you hadn't had lunch and that you were going to be late for dinner," Katrina said.

"And you'd been watching what I ate?" Mike asked, pulling a drumstick off the chicken and handing it to her.

"Everyone knew that," Katrina said, accepting the chicken diffidently. "The old women had been clucking about it half the day."

"Oh," Mike replied, uncomfortably. He knew the Keldara watched him, but he wasn't aware that the scrutiny was that intense. "And they just let you come out here?"

"Yes," Katrina said then sighed and shrugged. "I probably would have been sent to town this year if you hadn't said no one would be. No family will have me. I'm too—"

"Different," Mike said. "Hardheaded and all that, too. But mostly it's that you don't fit the Keldara mold. You're damned pretty, though," he added, then realized what he'd said and cleared his throat.

"Pretty doesn't matter," Katrina said, a touch angrily. "I know too much, I think too much. And I say too much," she added, sighing again. "Usually at the wrong time. So . . . coming out here was not such a . . . loss to the Family. Whatever anyone thinks. Besides, I'd already been with you. In the car. Remember?"

"Vividly," Mike admitted. There was just something about snow, even if you thought you were going to die in a blizzard, that was romantic. "So what are you going to do with your life?"

"I'm probably going to be the old aunt that does all the work," Katrina admitted, shrugging. "Or I'll run away to town. I'm not sure I can handle being the last woman my whole life."

"Don't run to town," Mike said, sliding the plate closer and handing her the fork. "Bad as it is here, it can be infinitely worse in the hands of the slavers. Some of them aren't all bad, but you don't get to pick and choose in advance."

"There's another choice, of course," Katrina said, taking a small bite of potato and handing the fork back. "The Kildaran."

"I take it that means the wife of the Kildar," Mike said, surprised at her boldness. "Ain't gonna happen."

"Actually, it's the woman of the Kildar," Katrina said, taking a small bite of chicken. "Not the wife. I'm not sure of the right name for you."

"Concubine?" Mike asked. "Mistress? Katrina, there are reasons I don't have people close to me. You don't want to be one of them."

"You're wrong in that, Kildar," the girl said, setting down the chicken and looking him in the eye. "I know you have enemies. But I'm strong and I'm the right woman for you."

"You're a girl," Mike said, shaking his head. "In my country, even thinking about fooling around with you is a capital crime."

"Latya, the one you call Flopsy, is younger than I am," Katrina said, evenly.

"I'm not terribly happy about that," Mike admitted.

"And you like Inessa," Katrina continued, remorselessly. "Because she looks like me, I think. Is it that I'm too smart? Too . . . headstrong? You like weak women?" she ended angrily.

"No," Mike admitted, unwilling to meet her eye. "But I don't want you getting hurt. Either by being here, with me, or by living with me and being a target."

"I am a woman, Kildar," Katrina shouted. "This year I would be married if it weren't for nobody wanting me! And you do want me, I know that!"

"Yes, I do," Mike said, finally looking at her, his eyes hot and face hard. "But I'm sure as hell not going to take you here on the grass. If the time comes, if it is right, I will consider it. But until then, you'll have to wait. Understand? Can you do that? You're an impatient bitch."

"What's a promise from a man worth?" Katrina asked, bitterly.

"From one that's not trying to get in your pants, usually a lot," Mike said. "And it was anything but a promise. Let things get stable and we'll discuss it. But right now, it's out of the question."

"I'll wait," Katrina said, furiously. "For a while, Kildar. But only for a while. You have shown that you will do things even that you don't promise. For that, I will wait."


Back | Next