The demolition charges were tossed to the teams from the back of a softskin trailer being towed by an unarmed track. It pottered down the middle of the wide boulevard a few lengths behind the armed mini tracks. Further back another track towed a bowser of incendiary fuel and a pressure pump to refill the back tanks of the flame thrower troops. Even against undefended targets these contraptions were risky to wear, so there were twenty troops wearing them, but only two at a time fired theirs up.
In better times the building had been a lawyer’s offices, with a big door painted dark green and small windows to protect the privacy of clients. The charge layers were no longer nervous about approaching buildings, having razed so many without any serious opposition. They sauntered up with the charges, quite light loads wrapped in linen, coiled around their necks like heavy scarves. They each had an assistant engineer, who would scamper ahead and hammer mounting nails into the top corners of the door frame. Behind them was the flame thrower, adjusting the feed to his pilot flame.
This door was taller than most, even the taller of the assistant engineers had to stretch to place his nail and drive it home. They stepped back and the charge layers hooked the ends of their long thin explosives over the nails. They, in turn, demurred to the flamethrower. Each of the layers had a finger hooked in the pull fuse of their charge whilst they waited for the word. The troop with the flamethrower lit a large cigar on the pilot light. He took a few deep pulls on it before smiling and nodding that he was ready.
The layers pulled the fuses and the black strings began sparking. They stepped clear as the flamethrower was levelled at the door.
Something exploded in the centre of the door. The soldier with the flamethrower was lifted off his feet by a projectile that punctured the tank on his back. The tank ruptured, the contents ignited and the wearer- and several charge layers and support troops around him- was swallowed by the flame.
Around the door, the charges went off. The door didn’t fall in, propelled by the blast, but collapsed outwards under the weight of a cupboard leant against it. The solid cabinet crashed down the short flight of steps and slid out into the street.
Windows were smashed along the second and third floors and guns brought to bear from them. These were single shot scatter guns, antique hunting rifles and old three shot duellers. The first salvo cut down troops all the way back to the charge truck. When a gun was empty, its owner stepped aside to reload and another took their place. Few had more than six shots, and they were all to retreat when they were out.
As the second volley was fired from the upper floors, Shara lead a squad of more heavily armed fighters out of the door. The tracks were beginning to turn, this stage had to be completed before they could bring their guns to bear. The squad raced for the charge trailer. The few in the group armed with autoguns fired down the avenue at the confused mass of secondary troops and the other flamethrowers. A larger group swarmed over the trailer and commenced firing on the second demolition squad beyond.
The door to the opposite house had been blown from its hinges, but the flamethrower hadn’t been brought to bear. He turned it toward Shara’s squad, faltering as he realised what they stood on. Shara pointed at him, jerked and he fell. There was no immediate conflagration this time, but fuel gushed in all directions.
In the trailer the autogunners gave covering fire whilst the rest of the squad enthusiastically pulled fuses and threw the long thin charges at the tracks. Two of the squad, a Glacier war veteran and a girl, spotted the bowser, with all its defenders dead or fled. They grabbed two charges each and ran for it. They found the ground near the tank slippery with flamethrower fuel, and skidded and slid to a halt against it. They draped the charges over the top of the tank, pulled the fuses and ran.
By fluke, one of the charges tossed from the trailer had wrapped around the barrel of a track’s gun. The occupant had thrown it into reverse and was jerking from side to side in an attempt to dislodge the payload. Other charges had landed all around the tracks, and had begun going off. In the confusion, Shara and her squad jumped from the trailer and its track and sprinted for the blown door. Fuses were pulled from some of the charges in the trailer bed for good measure. The track with a charge around its gun ran right over another charge just as it went off. The explosion punched a hole in its underarmour, killing the occupant and lighting the fuel. The charge around the gun destroyed the weapon but did far less damage overall.
The girl and the veteran skidded away from the bowser, changing direction when they saw the rest of the squad. The old man slipped and fell, cracking an already wounded knee on the road. He didn’t cry out, knowing that doing so would damn the girl to pause and die. Struggling to his feet he continued his hopeless charge.
From the safety of the building the rest of the squad watched. They saw the explosion destroy the bowser and the flower of flame spread from it. The old man was picked up by the rolling yellow wave and carried along the boulevard. The girl, somehow, was just below the fringe of the flame front. Her hair was singed and a chunk of incandescent debris streaked past close enough to set her jacket alight. A quick minded youngster grabbed the huge greatcoat from the stand inside the hall and stood in the doorway with it held wide. The girl bounded up the steps and into the wings of the coat and the arms that held it. The youngster was bowled over, but he still managed to wrap the heavy material around her and smother the flames.
Everyone was on the floor now, they knew what came next. The explosion of the trailer turned the nearest tracks over and sent the flaming bowser tumbling back toward the remaining troops. Windows shattered on either side of the street for hundreds of spans in either direction and the smoke from the burning buildings pulsed in the shockwave.
Through the whistling of tinnitus there was near silence. Burning wood crackled in the distance. The youth released his grip on the coat and the girl pushed herself up. She looked down at the boy and flushed. “Rad.” A childhood crush flushed her cheeks.
The girl looked around. “Where is my grandfather?”