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For All Nails #19
A _Chingazo_

Beaverhead Region, Northern Vandalia, CNA [1]
13 March 1972

Carmen Valenzuela checked the IV again.  Samuels' blood was flowing
well into Gutierrez, and no longer from Gutierrez' leg onto the dirt
floor of the barn.  The bullet was out, and there was a good chance of
saving his leg.

"OK, Samuels, I need you another five minutes."

"You got it, _chica_, I got no place to go right now."

That was true for them all, Carmen reflected.  "Recon in force" had sounded
simple enough at the briefing.  Third Platoon was to walk over the line, check
out an allegedly civilian target thought to be used by the _banditos_, and
if necessary blow it up.  They had found no _banditos_ and no caches of arms,
but the barn did have its military uses.  It was now giving Third some measure
of cover from the company of Tories that had them pinned down.

A _chingazo_, the men were calling it.  A fuckup, particularly one where the
officers left the grunts open and exposed.

"Carmen!"  Lieutenant Martinez.

"Sir!"

"Anything you can't leave down there?"

"No sir!"

"Get up here!"

"Samuels, in five minutes pull that thing out of your arm and stick this
band-aid on yourself.  Then do the same for Pablo here.  You got it?"

"_No problemo, senorita_."

She warily climbed the wooden staircase and spotted Martinez by a window.

"Lieutenant?"

"I've got us a parley.  You're coming with me."

Come to think of it, the firing _had_ died down.  She had hardly noticed...

**********

"Lieutenant Jackson Martinez, 14th MDN Rangers."

"Captain Sir Perry Jameson, Harrison's Light Infantry Regiment.  
Care to tell us how you happen to be visiting the CNA on a fine spring day?"

"Oh, I suppose it's hot pursuit of your irregulars again, then a bit of
map trouble?"

"No doubt.  An understandable mistake, I'm sure, but the explanations are
perhaps best made back at our camp at Fort Gallatin?"

"I'm afraid I'm not authorized to surrender a platoon, Captain.  And before
you shell the building, you'll want to know we've got five of your boys."

"How are they?"

"Carmen?"

"Three wounded, nothing too bad -- I did what I could but one of them could
use a field hospital pretty soon."

"And your own?"

Carmen confirmed with a look that Martinez wanted her to give 
the right answer.  "Two dead, twelve wounded, four seriously."

"I'm sorry, Leftenant."  Carmen noted the affectation -- apparently part of
the CNA officer corps (a "Sir", for all that -- an inherited title?)
still thought they were British.  Probably used a monocle sometimes too.
"Well, we'd be even sorrier to have to subdue you by force, but we're
perfectly prepared to do it."

"There's a problem with that, Captain.  We've kept radio silence up to now,
but I can call for help.  There'd be at least five combat gyropters here in
about ten minutes.  Even the odds a little bit."

"Indeed.  Your superiors send you over here, forbid you to surrender, but
authorize you to start a war on your own?"

"About the size of it.  At least they told me they'd be here if I needed them.
The USM Army isn't used to leaving dead and wounded behind, you know.  By the
way, if we're not back in fifteen minutes, that call goes out."

"Do you want a war today, Leftenant?  Does your new so-called President [2]?
Does Mexico?"

"No sir, I don't, he don't, and we don't.  If we have to, though..."

"Any suggestions?"

"Carmen, how many of our wounded can walk back?"

"All but Chavez, Gutierrez, and Delacroix."

"_I_ can leave my dead and wounded behind, Captain.  The rest of us walk
back, no one else gets hurt today, you send the bodies back and take care
of our wounded.  I think we can count on you to do that."

Carmen thought back to a skinny black _bandito_ a few years before and how
he had fared in captivity.  But if this captain gave his word...

"And what do I get out of this?"

"No battle.  And you have proof positive that our regulars are across the
border.  I think the diplomats will want to talk about that, and frankly I'd
rather it be them than us.  Someone who could do something about your damned
irregulars before it's too late, maybe."

"You're a bit of a poker player, it seems, Leftenant?"

"On occasion."

"I'm partial to whist myself.  But if I remember the game correctly, I'll
see your three wounded and raise you a leftenant.  And a _medico_, or should
I say _medica_?  I can't guarantee it, but I should think you'd be exchanged
after a good bit of discussion."

"I'll call, Captain.  That means yes."

"Righto, then.  We'll maintain the truce, and watch all but five of you
over that hill in say, half an hour?"

Carmen breathed a sigh of relief.  "Captain, can one of your medics come back
with us?  I'm out of O-neg and anti-microbials.  And I'd be happy to help out
with your men any way I can."

The CNA captain nodded.  "It was reckless to send you over here, Leftenant.
I hope your superiors realize that."

"I'm a soldier, Captain, like yourself.  I do what I'm told.  Most of the
time."

"Indeed."

Notes:

[1] Near OTL Lima, Montana.  The border in this area is the continental
     divide, matching the OTL Montana-Idaho border.  Areas within ten miles
     of the Rockies border on either side are in a military exclusion zone
     where civilian activity occurs but is limited.  The Mississippi and
     Arkansas River borders are well defined, well guarded, and allow
     considerable commerce.  But north of the Arkansas, only 40,000 troops
     from each side guard the Divide from Pike's Peak to the Arctic.
     Irregulars from the CNA were described in FAN#5.

[2] President Moctezuma was elected (some would say "elected") in November
     1971 and took office on 4 March 1972.  Vincent Mercator remains Secretary
     of War.

Dave MB