With guns taken from dead soldiers and little guidance from their commanders, bands of ‘liberators’ roamed through Cora and Munss. Debts were being settled all over the twin cities as suspected collaborators were rousted from their beds to be lynched and pross houses were looted of their profits. The few teams with a mission could do little to order the chaos. They had their targets, without which the whole exercise would be irrelevant.
One such target was the central command building. Aylo had pressed for inclusion in its liberation, pointing out his extensive knowledge of its layout. Now he stood with an autogun in his hands, regretting all the bravado. Shara stood beside him. She was his protector, but she looked like she wanted to slap him for his foolishness.
They were across the street from the main gates in the walled compound., which were invitingly ajar. Squads of snipers were rushing for the roofs of the highest nearby buildings to look down into the compound and ascertain what was waiting behind the walls. Whistles sounded as they reached their vantage points.
One whistle, the Western roof, directly above Aylo, had been taken. Two whistles, the Southern roof. Views from the east and north were blocked.
With the high ground taken, the ground attack could begin. Two groups of four ran across the street, to press against the wall by the gates. Shots rang out from the rooftops, windows shattered in the building. There was return fire, but it quickly died away. One of the teams by the gate pushed it wider and ducked through, covered by the second team. There was more gunfire. The second team pushed the gate even wider and went through it firing in all directions.
The second wave were at the gate before the firing had stopped, and rushed through to join the melee. The gunshots ceased and the last group, with Aylo and Shara, entered the courtyard. There were surprisingly few dead, one attacker and five defenders. The wounded were being treated and a number of the defending troops were gathered in a corner with their hands bound. Aylo studied the prisoners’ faces. He recognised many of them, though none looked up to register him. Their expressions were hard to read. Relief at surviving the battle was more than matched by fear of what would happen next. Aylo didn’t know either. The fate of prisoners had not been discussed at any of the Resistance meetings. But then, the concepts of casualties had remained foreign to them as well.
There were several entrances to the building. The main entrance opened onto the first floor, with grand steps either side leading down to ground level. There were barracks entrances to the rear and supply man’s doors in the side walls. Tactically they should probe to find the easiest entry, but the leaders of this raiding party were thinking more of their places in the history books. They had already decided they would enter by the main doors. Guards were placed on the other doors as fresh men appeared from around the city.
Sniper fire through the windows kept movement inside to a minimum as the squad crept up either side of the steps. Someone tried the handle on the double doors. Locked. They scurried back to safety, but no defensive fire came through the wood. The group were stumped. They hadn’t brought a battering ram and there was no way these heavy doors would give to simple kicking as the interior doors would.
Shara stepped up to the door. She levelled her arm at the handle, then lowered it slightly to where she estimated the lock was. She gave the familiar jerk and there was a whooshing cough from the door. The handle had given way to a gaping hole.
Again a team of four, a different four, went in first. There was no firing, so the second and third squads moved in. The entrance hall was deserted. Aylo recognised the security desk where he had signed in every morning. The leader of their force turned to him, “We need your knowledge now.”
“The barracks are on the floor below. There are two ways in from this level, down the stairs at the rear and through the kitchens, which are on two levels. The kitchen entrance is through the dining hall, which is that room.”
The commander stopped Aylo. He turned to two sergeants and relayed the information with terse commands and sign language. Resistance fighters were arriving from all over the cities, unable to stop the bloodletting they wanted to be associated with something that at least had a suggestion of glory. The two squads that were sent to clear the barracks level were each as large as the force that had initially attacked.
“The other levels? And the cells?” asked the commander.
“The cells are below the level of the barracks, but the only way down to them are stairs that start on the third floor. The second and third floors are the clerical offices, fourth is the commanding staff’s and the fifth is their quarters. I have never been to the fifth floor and only rarely to the fourth, so I do not know their layouts.”
“That is good enough. you can lead the team that clears the upper floors. You……” The commander had been ready to order Shara as he would any of his own men. He quickly thought better of it. “Can you guard young Aylo? He is a very important part of this uprising after all.”
The commander assigned sergeants to Aylo and told them to assemble a squad from the newly arrived Resistance fighters. Aylo looked over his troops as they fell in. The senior of his sergeants had an old rifle, possibly an antique. Aylo studied his own unfired autogun, the grip damp where he had held it too tightly. He handed the autogun to the older man. “You should take this.”
“I am a spy, not a soldier. This is no use to me.”
“Of course, this does mean that you go first up the stairs.”
The old fighter smiled, “You could not have stopped me any how.”
There were secondary staircases, so they placed guards on them as they went up the main stairs. There were store rooms on the second floor- paper, typers, furniture- the small offices of those dedicated to distributing them. They called the guards up the secondary stairs and went on to the third floor.
They found clerks cowering in the third office on this floor, hiding as far away from the windows, and the body of a soldier who had ventured too close, as possible. Aylo recognised all of them, and some knew him. “Aylo! You…. You have to save us from these men, for the Tower’s sake!”
Every gun in the squad was raised on the pathetic huddle in the corner. They were all traitors and they could all die, but Aylo wasn’t sure he wanted to be the one who gave the order. He held up his hand to hold the firing squad. “They should be interrogated before we decide what to do with them. Take them out to the other prisoners.”
There was no-one on the fourth or fifth floors. Aylo left his men to plunder Janssen’s rooms and took Shara and the old sergeant aside. “We should empty the cells.”
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