Save for the arrhythmic clanging of hammers on metal spikes, the railroad crew worked in silence. They didn’t sing as they worked. A propaganda film crew had shot some footage of them once, but the musical number had been performed by traitors dressed up for the day. Now the Southern cities knew just how happy and well fed were the prisoners of war who toiled in the sun of the conquered plains.
Umat paused for a moment, closed his eyes and relished the shade of the boxcar. The guard would be along soon to prod him with the rifle barrel and insult him. It didn’t matter, he could feel the rain on his face. It fell in big warm drops. He smeared the liquid over his brow, then opened his eyes and stared at his fingers. They were red.
On the boxcar roof, both autogunners were slumped over their weapons, ragged exit wounds in their uniforms. There was a commotion on the other side of the railroad truck, the sound of gunfire. The guard who had escorted Umat back from the work detail was confused, looking around for someone to give him an order and stumbling closer to his prisoner.
Umat had been sent for more spikes to drive into the railroad sleepers. There was a bucket full of them in front of him. He dipped down, grabbed one and whirled on the guard. The spike buried deep in the Southerner’s chest. Umat watched the surprised expression with satisfaction before letting the soldier collapse.
An armed man, in a uniform Umat didn’t recognise, rounded the boxcar. Another came round the steam engine at the front of the service train. Umat raised his hands to show that he was unarmed and chained. The soldiers advanced on him. The one who had come around the boxcar lowered his gun and dug a small book out of a pocket. “We are here to free you.” He pronounced slowly.
The soldier flipped back a few pages, read something and smiled. “I speak Overall.” Umat announced. The soldier nodded, he understood the traders’ language. “Do you?”
“Not with brilliance. But enough.”