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Paper in Fire

chapter 21.

Kain Fuery sat in a small, windowless back room of Youswell's Inn, fiddling with the internal workings of a wireless transceiver. The insurgents had set up their communication centre here, and the young Sergeant had been locked in with a guard for eighteen hours a day, sleeping on a small cot in a locked broom closet, ever since he'd arrived in the small mining town. The room contained little more than the wireless and the only remaining phone in Youswell. The timid young man had been stalling the task of setting up a secure channel for Colonel Brand for days, citing a lack of proper parts and equipment, but the officer was losing patience, and Kain was afraid of what Edward might suffer because of it.

Up until now, the Sergeant had not been treated too roughly, but he knew that wouldn't last. Whatever he ended up doing, he wasn't going to get out of this alive if the rebels had their way. They were completely unconcerned that Fuery overheard all communications that came in to the station, and he had amassed quite a bit of intelligence on officers in the upper ranks that were involved in the planned coup. Because of this, he knew that when he was finished doing what they wanted, he wouldn't be allowed to live. It was another reason he was stalling for time, brain working overtime to come up with some idea how to get himself and everyone else in this mess out alive.

Kain didn't have any illusions about his ability to successfully take on his captors singlehanded. Given access to a firearm, he was more likely to accidentally shoot himself than an intended target. He wasn't a very persuasive speaker, so he couldn't see himself talking his guard into letting him go. Setting them all on fire with a snap of his fingers was out of the question of course, as was transforming anything handy into a weapon. He also didn't have the means to kick the living shit out of these people, as desperately as he might wish to do so. In the realm of physical altercations, he'd be hard pressed to fight his way out of a wet paper bag. Calling for help was the only thing Kain could realistically think of that he was capable of doing.

Making any sort of call from the communications room he was locked in all day would be impossible however. They never left him alone in the daytime, ever. Someone even accompanied him right into the outhouse. If he could escape from the closet he slept in, he might be able to get to another town to make a call, but getting out of his makeshift cell wasn't the only problem. If he did manage to slip away, it would only be by pure luck if he made it to a phone. The young Sergeant was a city boy, born and bred, and would most likely end up hopelessly lost in the woods. He also realized that if he took off and managed to avoid being recaptured, the rebels would probably kill their hostages as soon as they discovered he was missing and get the ball rolling on their coup, assuming they were about to be exposed.

Kain had finally decided to wait, stall for time, and hope an opportunity to screw up the rebel's plans presented itself. Still, it was hard to sit and do nothing when his brain was screaming at him to run, or hide, or howl at the moon.

When the military supply train had pulled into the station in the small hours of the morning, Kain had hoped it meant that the insurrection had been discovered. Unfortunately, it had been the rebel's allies arriving with more supplies to store in the mine. The soldiers had been busy unloading the boxcars and transferring the equipment through the dark to the other site for most of the night, and appeared to have the job nearly done.

Fuery was just about to tell the guard he was past due for some sleep when he heard voices raised in anger in the tavern area of the Inn. His guard went to the door to see what the commotion was, and acting on impulse, Kain quickly pulled two vacuum tubes out of the transmitter he was working on, switching them one for the other and disabling the set. Keeping one eye on his distracted guard, Kain then reached his foot under the table and wrapped the telephone wire around it. A quick jerk and the phone was disconnected. Go with your gut, Ed had said.

"They're just kids!" Halling's agonized voice carried in from the taproom. "Your men nearly killed them!"

"They were caught trying to escape over the ridge. Clearly they were heading for Brownsville to alert the authorities to our activities." Colonel Brand's voice was cool. "We are preparing for war here Halling. We can't afford to engage the regular army before we're ready. You were warned that crossing us would result in severe consequences. I believe an example must be made."

"What do you mean?" Hallings voice was heated. "Beating two teenage boys nearly to death wasn't enough fun for you?"

The Brant ignored the irate miner. "Collins!" he called to Fuery's guard. "Bring the Sergeant. We're going down to our supply depot."

The guard pulled Kain up with a firm grip on the young man's right arm, and roughly forced him from the room.

"I think you need a graphic example of what will happen to Major Elric if you continue to waste our time," the Colonel said as Kain was all but dragged out into the street.

A small procession made its way down a well worn path to the abandoned mine where the prisoners were being kept, along with the arms and supplies the insurgents were storing. Colonel Brant lead the way, followed by Halling, Kain, and Collins. The other miners were herded along by more soldiers armed with rifles. It didn't take long to reach their destination.

The abandoned mine was a short distance downhill from the town, a decaying old mine camp, complete with broken and rusted excavation equipment discarded around the entrance to the derelict tunnel. Once they arrived, Brant called two soldiers over, and after a short dialogue the pair entered the mine. The officer then turned back to the agitated assembly of townsmen.

"It appears that you haven't taken our threats seriously," he began. "I think, after this, you won't make that mistake again." The man's grin was cold.

"What are you going to do?" Halling's voice shook with a mixture of fear and anger.

"Just what we said we would do if you didn't behave," the Commander smirked. "Execute a hostage."

The townsmen shuffled anxiously under the watchful gaze of their guards, quietly exchanging words amongst themselves. No one would meet Halling's eyes. Kain could see the man's jaw clenched so tight the tendons stood out on his neck.

The soldiers kept their rifles on the tense group of miners. The minutes ticked by. The tension increased to an unbearable level as they waited. Kain edged his way closer to the Colonel, desperately trying to think of some way to prevent this, but the situation appeared hopeless. He was watching the mine entrance for the return of the two soldiers with their intended victim, so he didn't see when Halling flew at the soldier nearest to him, grabbing for his rifle. The soldier easily sidestepped his attacker and neatly clubbed him to the ground with the rifle stock, then placed the gun's barrel against the mine foreman's chest.

Two shots rang out from inside the mine, and the man pinning Halling dropped to the ground unmoving. The soldiers in the clearing swung their weapons on the mine, but before they could open fire, the miners were on them. Severely outnumbered, the unexpected shooting from the mine was all the distraction needed for the miners to overpower their guards. Kain leaped on Colonel Brant, tangling him up and preventing him from reaching his side arm. The larger officer managed to grab the Sergeant by the front of his shirt and drove a fist into his stomach. The man pulled back his fist to strike again, but didn't get the chance. He was overpowered by a number of burley miners and forced to the ground.

It took Kain a moment to distinguish the rumble he felt in the ground from the tremble of his adrenaline charged body. Looking at the mine entrance, he saw the hostages, some armed with pistols and rifles, running quickly towards the men. Edward was not among them.

"The tunnel is collapsing!" one woman cried as the men rushed to meet their loved ones.

Halling staggered to his feet, helped by one of his neighbors. "Everyone away from the mine!" he ordered. "Drag those bastards along, boys! Don't let them get away!" the mine chief indicated the now disarmed enemy soldiers.

Black dust suddenly burst from the mouth of the tunnel, billowing into the mine camp, immediately coating everything it touched. Kain was grabbed and pulled forcefully along as the miners scrambled to keep out of the suffocating cloud, rushing to shepherd their families and the enemy captives away from the mine entrance as quickly as possible. A moderate crosswind blew the black cloud away from the fleeing townsfolk, downhill toward a small stream cut gully.

"Someone is shooting in there!" one miner bellowed in fear.

"Take cover!" Halling shouted, just as the tunnel mouth erupted.

The ebon cloud suddenly became a high energy storm of dust, smoke and flame. The fleeing group barely had time to dodge behind the abandoned mining equipment at the perimeter of the mine camp before it overtook them. Screams of pain and fear could barely be heard above the roar of the explosion. Kain stumbled over the rough terrain and fell to the ground, then made himself as flat as possible as the firestorm raged above him, blistering his back.

Just when the flames appeared to be subsiding, the ground rumbled with a new explosion. Then another, and Kain realized that the stock piled munitions deep in the mine were the most likely source. Many minutes passed before the blaze gradually wore itself out. Soon only a few nearby trees and abandoned mine supports continued to burn.

The young Sergeant tried to stand, only to discover that he had injured his ankle. He sat where he was as the shaken miners slowly took stock of their situation.

"Third shift!" Hallings voice was raised over the quiet mutter of confusion. "Take two of these rifles and make sure we have all the enemy soldiers in town under control. We need to get our injured to the Doc so he can check them over. If you see any soldiers on your way up there, shoot first and ask questions later."

Some of the men began to follow their assigned task, moving away from the old mine camp.

"Second shift!" Halling shouted again, and pointed to the captured enemy soldiers. "Secure these sons of bitches. I don't care if you have to break their arms and legs to do it. Then half of you keep a close watch on 'em. If word about this gets out to their people, we're all in deep shit. The rest of you, take the guns and go look for the sentries stationed on the trails. Be damn careful."

The miners holding Colonel Brand and his men set about their task, happily using a lot more force than necessary, as several others headed into the woods.

"First shift!" Halling glanced at the mine entrance. "Get the fire and rescue equipment ready. Once the mine cools out we need to get down there."

"Don't think this is over!" Brand shouted to the mine chief. "The officer I left at the Inn is probably on the phone as we speak. Reinforcements will be on the way."

"I disabled both the phone and transmitter, Colonel," Kain called out, "so don't count on your reinforcements." The young Sergeant turned to Halling's wife as she approached. "What happened to Ed? Why didn't he come out with you?"

"He wanted to make sure these skunks couldn't get to their stockpile," Rowan squatted down beside the young man. "I guess he's done that alright." She patted Kain's shoulder. "Don't worry, I told him where to hide just in case this happened, so let's assume he made it until we know different. Now we just have to go in and get him out."

Halling approached Kain, his ankle now being attended to by Rowan. "Let's get you back to the Inn. We're going to have to figure out a safe way to contact your superior. I guess you can fix the phone and make sure a call is safe from this end, but at the other end . . ."

"All I need to secure is the line out. Where I'm calling the line is always secure." Kain grimaced as the big man helped him to stand, shifting his injured ankle.

"Where's that?"

"Just get me to the phone."