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For All Nails #247: Seven Nation Army

By Johnny Pez


Camp Bolingbroke, New Granada

4 October 1975


It was raining in New Granada, and had been for the past six months. General Ulysses W. Cumberland no longer heard the rain pounding on the corrugated tin roof of his headquarters building, or paid any mind to the omnipresent mud or the fungus that grew overnight in the humid air. Today, as he had every day for the past six weeks, he glanced at the report from the meteorological section. Today, for the first time in six weeks, the forecast did not predict more rain.

Cumberland rose from his desk and stuck his head out of the door to the antechamber where his aide, Colonel Callaghan, was seated. Ordinarily, Cumberland would have called him on the interspeak, but the humidity here did terrible things to electronic equipment, and the interspeak spent more time inactive than it did working.

"Colonel," he said, "please have Serjeant Sellers report to my office directly."

"Yes, sir," said Callaghan as he picked up the handset on his telephone. For some reason, Callaghan's telephone never seemed to suffer any ill effects from the climate. Probably he muttered some Celtic incantation over it every morning, Cumberland mused, to insure that its workings would resist the damp.

Returning to his desk, Cumberland carried on reading reports. Over the course of thirty-two years in the British Army, Cumberland had decided that old King Nappy of Naples had got it wrong - an army didn't travel on its stomach, it traveled on red tape. A single army generated enough red tape to tie the world in a bow knot, with enough left over to wrap up the moon, too. Trying to coordinate seven different armies was a nightmare he wouldn't wish on Mercator himself. The normal quantity of red tape was bad enough, but the amount seemed to increase geometrically every time another nation sent its armed forces to join the war in New Granada. Now, in addition to the United Kingdom, there were contingents present from Australia, Indonesia, Scandinavia, Siam, the Chinese Community and the Philippines. The Australians at least spoke English, and most of the Filipino and Taiwanese officers could manage as well, but with the others present Cumberland's staff now included translators for Danish, Thai and Malay, each one generating more paperwork.

The idea seemed to be to assemble as many different men from as many different nations as humanly possible in an attempt to intimidate the New Granadans into surrendering without a fight. That was all well and good, and Cumberland himself would be the first to applaud if they did in fact end the war without any further combat. However, the bad news was that if they didn't succeed in scaring the Dagoes into surrendering, which was looking ever more certain, Cumberland would somehow have to fight an actual war with his oversized, polyglot army.

The door to his office opened, and Colonel Callaghan escorted in Serjeant David Sellers of the 127th Combat Meteorologists, who was carrying a khaki-coloured dispatch case. Cumberland returned Sellers' salute and said, "At ease, Serjeant. Have a seat. I presume you've got the latest pictures there with you."

"Yes, sir," said Sellers. Seating himself at the desk, he opened the case and withdrew a series of photographs of black-and-white splotches. They were supposed to be images of New Granada and the eastern Pacific taken from a Taiwanese planetoid orbiting the Earth, but for all Cumberland could tell they might as well be a set of those ink blots the alienists used.

Sellers pointed to a particularly large black splotch on a 9 x 9 inch photograph. "General, this is a high-pressure system that's formed north of the Tortoise Islands. We estimate that it should be passing over the Caribbean coast three days from now."

"And that's going to cause the break in the weather?"

"Yes, sir. We'll be looking at anywhere between three and seven days of clear skies."

Plans began forming in Cumberland's mind. "Serjeant, how certain of this are you?"

"About ninety percent certain, sir." Sellers went on to explain the most likely sequence of weather for the next week, illustrated by his splotchy photos, but Cumberland was only half paying attention. The other half was considering whether the Serjeant's forecast was sufficiently reliable to put Galahad into motion.

For six weeks, the politicians in London (and to a lesser extent, the other allied capitals) had been nagging him to go on the offensive. Sir Geoffrey Gold, at least, had been reluctant to believe that "a little rain," as he put it, could hold up the conquest of New Granada. Fortunately, the Australians had more experience with tropical monsoons than Gold, and they had been able to make him see reason.

Still, it would be worth his career to let a chance like this go by without making use of it. If Sellers was right about his "high pressure system," then this was his opportunity to launch Galahad, the long-awaited advance on Ciudad Camacho. It would be too late to put a stop to the Dagoes' atomic bomb operation, of course; they had long since moved that to a new location near Bogotá. However, 'on to Camacho' had been the chief slogan of the war so far, and the sooner Cumberland managed to take it, the better it would be for him.

"Thank you, Serjeant," he said at last, "your analysis has been very helpful. Dismissed."

Cumberland waited a minute for Sellers to make good his exit, then stuck his head out into the antechamber again. "Colonel, I want you to schedule a general staff meeting for 0900 hours."

"Yes, sir," said Callaghan as Cumberland returned to his office. 0900 hours gave him 45 minutes to get through the rest of his morning's paperwork. Once Operation Galahad was set in motion, it would only get worse.


(Return to For All Nails)

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